Cleansing a Leper

(Note: An apology is in order for my falling behind in posting these sermons from the book of Mark as I had said I would do each Friday.  We’ve been quite busy, and this is one of those things that slipped through the cracks.  I am sorry.)

Text: Mark 1:40-45 – There came a leper to Him, begging Him, and kneeling down to Him, and saying to Him, “If You desire it, You can make me clean.”

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand, and touched him, and says to him, “I desire.  Be cleansed.”  And as soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.  And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away, and says to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone: but go your way, show yourself to the high priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

But he went out and began to proclaim it much, and to spread abroad the incident, insomuch that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

Introduction

The King of kings, Jesus of Nazareth, has come into the territory of Satan, proclaiming freedom from slavery to sin.  He is gathering people to His side, preparing them for when His kingdom comes.  With some, as portrayed by Mark, Jesus called them by His word, “Come after me” (1:17).  With others, Jesus proved His point from the Scriptures (1:21-22).  Still others were taught about His power by seeing Him cast out demons or healing the sick (1:27-28, 32-39).

Maybe Mark’s readers were impressed by the healing of sicknesses.  Maybe they were even somewhat impressed by the casting out of demons (though some of them may have been like some skeptics today who claim that demons weren’t real, but were instead just different diseases or mental illnesses).  But doctors had healed diseases before, and people could fake being possessed by a demon.  So perhaps Mark’s readers are still skeptical.  But the next thing healed by Jesus was supposedly incurable, and no one would dare fake it.

The Text, part 1 – The Leper’s Confession (Mark 1:40)

Jesus had come down from the mountain after giving His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 8:1), and had entered into a city (Luke 5:12) when something happened that would have made most people back up in fear.

There came a leper to Him

So many questions could be asked here.  What was a leper doing in the city?  What was the reaction of the disciples and the multitudes that were with Jesus?

Leprosy was not something to be taken lightly.  The Hebrew word for leprosy means “a smiting,” and was viewed as a punishment from God Himself.  Let me read what has been said about this incurable disease:

This disease “begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, rotting the whole body piecemeal.” “In Christ’s day no leper could live in a walled town, though he might in an open village. But wherever he was, he was required to have his outer garment rent as a sign of deep grief, to go bareheaded, and to cover his beard with his mantle, as if in lamentation at his own virtual death. He had further to warn passers-by to keep away from him, by calling out, ‘Unclean! unclean!’ nor could he speak to any one, or receive or return a salutation, since in the East this involves an embrace.” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)

Leprosy, beginning with little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features, turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. … An animal poison in the blood ferments … affects the skin … destroying the sensation of the nerves. The tuberculated form is the common one, inflaming the skin, distorting the face and joints, causing the hair of the head or eyebrows to fall off or else turn white, and encrusting the person with ulcerous tubercles with livid patches of surface between. The anesthetic elephantiasis begins in the forehead with shining white patches which burst; bone by bone drops off; the skin is mummy-like; the lips hang down exposing the teeth and gums. Tuberculated patients live (on the average) for only ten years more; anesthetic for 20. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

During Jesus’ day, there were leper colonies all over the place (not just in Palestine).  Mark’s readers might have cringed when they saw the word “leper,” because it was a disease that was horrifying, could be contagious, and one for which there is no cure.

All of that, yet this leper—this man who was most likely reduced to begging just to feed himself and perhaps a family—apparently followed Jesus into the city, and bravely presented himself before Him.  He wasn’t someone who was just starting to show signs of leprosy, either.  Luke says he was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12).  That is, this man had the distorted joints, the deformed face, the white hair (quite possibly in patches, the rest of it having fallen out).

Begging Him, and kneeling down to Him

This leper didn’t just come to Jesus and wait for the Lord to notice him and say something.  He came to Jesus, falling down to his knees in front of Him, and begged Him, pleaded with Jesus for mercy and help.  Matthew says that this man “worshiped Him”; Luke says that this man fell on his face before Jesus; and both record that this man called Jesus “Lord” (Matthew 8:1-4, Luke 5:12-16).

It’s not stated in the text, but knowing what leprosy is, and knowing the fear people had of being contaminated by it, you can just picture the multitudes backing up in fear, forming a large circle around Jesus and this man.  The man probably had the bleached-white hair and the torn garments visible as he’s on his knees, face down to the ground, begging Jesus for help.  The people around may have even tried to say to Jesus, “My Lord, quickly, you must move, this man is a leper!”

Saying to Him, “If You will, You can make me clean.”

Mark’s readers, given what they knew about leprosy, might have laughed at this poor leper.  “You poor, ignorant man.  There’s no cure for leprosy!”  But this man had hope.  He had heard about—or maybe even seen—the power that Jesus had exhibited over demons and diseases.  As a result, this man had hope that Jesus could cure even him.  But more than hope, this man had confidence.  He could come to Jesus with, “I’ve got leprosy, is there anything you can do for me?”  He could have asked, “Lord, is there any way you can make my leprosy better?”  But when he came to Jesus, he didn’t ask if it was possible, or if Jesus could help in some small way; he made a declaration: “If You want to, You can make me clean.”

The word “will” or “wilt” (KJV) means to wish for something, to desire something, to want something to take place.  By saying this, the leper confessed his belief in the power of Jesus.  He had full confidence in the ability of Jesus to heal him, and he also knew that he was at the mercy of Jesus—“if You want, You can make me clean.”

This is reminiscent of the Jews on the day of Pentecost.  They didn’t come out and say the words, “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” but they confessed their belief in Him by the words, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The Text, part 2 – Jesus’ Compassion (Mark 1:41)

Instead of backing away or rebuking the man for putting the multitude in danger of contracting leprosy, Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Jesus, moved with compassion…

Mark is displaying the love, the compassion of Jesus with these words.  This great and powerful King, who has overthrown demons and is being followed by huge crowds, doesn’t have the massive ego-trip that kings (like certain Caesars of the day) often do.  He takes the time to look at the man, to listen to the man, and has genuine concern for the man.  The powerful King, Son of the God, whose mission is to bring about His Kingdom and overthrow the powers of darkness, is also a King of compassion who cares about people—not for what He can get out of them, but because He loves them.

It’s worth noting that Mark is the only one who mentions that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Jesus…put forth His hand and touched Him

“Oh no!”  You can just picture the looks on the disciples’ faces when they saw Jesus reach out to touch the leper.  It had been ingrained in their heads for a long time that you stay as far away from lepers as possible—NEVER touch them.  And Mark’s readers probably thought the same thing—“He’s not really going to touch that leper, is He?”

But Jesus did.  Jesus had power over leprosy, and wasn’t afraid.

Jesus…says to him, “I want to.  Be cleansed.”

Imagine someone coming up to you, begging for something that you have within your power to do.  “I need food to feed my family,” or “I’m broken down and need a ride.”  Do you look at them and say, “I don’t want to help you”?  Can you imagine Jesus looking at this man, who is begging for help, and saying, “Nah, I don’t really want to help you”?  Of course not!  When you truly have compassion on someone, you want to help them, and you will help them if it is within your power to do so.

Jesus reaches out and touches the man, and expresses His compassion with the words “I want to [that is, I want to heal you]. Be cleansed.”

The Text, part 3 – The Leper’s Cleansing (Mark 1:42)

Right now, Mark’s readers, who understand that this gospel is supposed to be a true story, are hooked.  Sicknesses and diseases are one thing; but healing leprosy?  That’s something worth noticing.

As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him and he was cleansed.

Just like with Simon’s mother-in-law, there was no “recovery period,” or “It looks like it’s starting to get better” with this healing.  The healing was instantaneous.  Oh, to have been able to see that.  If the gospels were written today, we’d have put much more detail about how it looked, and the changes that took place on this man.  Did his hair go back to its original color?  His face looking completely different after the touch than it did when he bowed to the ground in front of Jesus?  The scales on his skin—did they fall to the ground or just disappear?  His joints miraculously changed?

Regardless of how it looked, and how the instant transformation took place, the fact remains that the man was healed—completely healed.  The crowd saw it, and the man knew it.  Put yourself in his place, in agony because of the leprosy, an outcast, bowing down at Jesus’ feet, and you feel His touch as He says the words “Be cleansed.”  You look at your hands and see that they are…normal.  You start to stand and realize that your joints—your knees, ankles, elbows, hips—aren’t bulging and deformed anymore.  You are able to stand fully upright for the first time in ages.  Tears almost certainly flowed from this man’s eyes as he looked upon Jesus, the compassionate King.

Now, take a moment to think about the thankfulness that people who are truly in need will have when you show the love of Christ to them and help them in their time of need.

The Text, part 4 – Jesus’ Charge (Mark 1:43-44)

And He strictly charged him, and immediately sent him away,

It’s interesting that Mark uses this word “strictly” to describe how Jesus spoke to the man, because it seems to be in contrast with the compassion shown in the previous verse.  He looked on this leper with compassion, desired to heal him, and then touched him.  But now there’s a difference in attitude; Jesus is being stern with the man.  Why?  Because even though the man had the best of intentions, he had broken the Law of Moses in coming to Jesus in the city.

And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, “Unclean, unclean.” All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be. (Leviticus 13:45-46).

McGarvey put it this way:

The language used indicates that Jesus sternly forbade the man to tell what had been done. The man’s conduct, present and future, shows that he needed severe speech. In his uncontrollable eagerness to be healed he had overstepped his privileges, for he was not legally permitted to thus enter cities and draw near to people (Numbers 5:2-3); he was to keep at a distance from them, and covering his mouth, was to cry, “Tame, tame—unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45-46, Luke 17:12-13). The man evinced a like recklessness in disregarding the command of Jesus.

The rest of what Jesus says to this man shows that the stern talking-to was in regards to his following God’s law.

and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing the things which Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.”

This command of Jesus not to broadcast the miracle has caused some confusion.  After all, didn’t Jesus want people to know who He was?  Wasn’t He performing a lot of miracles?  Why should He tell this man to keep the miracle secret?  Different suggestions have been given, including:

  1. It may have been better for the man not to mention his cure due to potential religious persecution (as in John 9:34). (McGarvey)
  2. The Lord was trying to suppress excitement, and prevent the crowds that gathered around Him from being too large, hindering His work (which is what ended up happening in verse 45). (McGarvey)
  3. “For the miracle to be properly attested, it was necessary that the appropriate gifts should be offered under Moses’ commandment, and that the priests should certify it. Until this was accomplished, the man should hold his peace; lest, if a rumor of these things went before him, the priests at Jerusalem, out of envy, out of a desire to depreciate what the Lord had done, might deny that the man had ever been a leper, or else that he was now truly cleansed” (Burton Coffman).

While each of these are reasonable, and carry with it some truth, it seems that the most logical explanation—especially given the stern and strict way that Jesus delivered the order to the man—is that He was telling this man to follow the Law of God, as opposed to breaking it like he had done moments earlier.  In other words, in doing this, it’s Jesus saying to the leper, “Repent and sin no more.”

From this, we need to understand that just because Jesus is a compassionate King, that doesn’t mean He’s a King who allows His subjects to ignore the law.  Jesus sternly charged this man to do what the Law required.  Compassion—that is, the mercy of Jesus does not eliminate obedience.

The Text, part 5 – The Leper’s Cheerfulness (Mark 1:45)

But he went out and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter.

It’s been said of this leper that:

[He] was so elated that he could scarcely refrain from publishing his cure, and he must also have thought that this was what Jesus really wanted—that in commanding him not to publish it he did not mean what he said (McGarvey, Fourfold Gospel).

Instead of doing what Jesus sternly commanded him to do, this leper told everyone he could find (hopefully on his way to Jerusalem to at least obey the second part of the command).  His words spread like a wildfire—which on one hand shows just how grateful this man was to be cleansed, but on the other hand showed a blatant disregard for the commands of Jesus.

As a result…

Jesus could no more openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places: and they came to Him from every quarter.

You might think, “That’s great; more people are flocking to this new King!”  But that is completely opposed to Jesus’ mission and methods.  Up to this point, He spread His message in the synagogues, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and showing the truth of it from Scriptures.  Now, however, He couldn’t go into the city without a mob of people around Him.  Forget a peaceful, contemplative audience in the synagogue; Jesus was being mobbed by people—most of them either wanting some kind of healing or wanting to see what He would do next.  The disobedience of the leper hindered the cause of Christ, turning Him into a spectacle.

The excitement cause by such an entry was injurious in several ways: 1. It gave such an emphasis to the miracles of Jesus as to make them overshadow his teaching. 2. It threatened to arouse the jealousy of the government. 3. It rendered the people incapable of calm thought. … Disobedience, no matter how well-meaning, always hinders the work of Christ (McGarvey)

The people who came to Him from “every quarter” included scribes and Pharisees from Judea and Jerusalem, according to Luke’s account.  It is as a result of the leper’s disobedience that the religious leaders in Jerusalem took special notice of the works of Jesus, and that’s when the antagonism towards the King began—because someone disobeyed.

Application

Jesus was a Man of Compassion—We Must be as Well.

It was a heart-rending scene for Jesus when He saw the poor leper fall down at His feet, begging to be healed.  Jesus knew He had the power, the ability to help this man in his struggles, and so He helped.  Reaching out and touching this outcast of society, Jesus helped him.  And Mark tells us in no uncertain terms that it was because Jesus had compassion on him.  Jesus reached out to the outcasts, the overlooked, the scorned, and He did it with compassion.

It might be interesting to see the results if we did an anonymous polling of everyone we know, asking if they would describe us as “compassionate.”  How would they answer if that question was asked about you?  Do you show compassion on those who are in need?  Or do you deem them not worthy of your time?  It doesn’t have to be something massively huge like leprosy; it could be as simple as a kind word or a meal.  Jesus let people know He cared.  We should be the same way.

Compassion does not Eliminate Obedience.

The leper came to Jesus in anguish and pain, in submission and with faith, a man in need of healing.  After receiving mercy from Jesus, though, the man was expected to obey the law of God.  It’s like Jesus was saying, “I’m healing you because I have mercy on you, even though you were disobeying the Law of God.  But now that I’ve healed you, it’s time for you to show your appreciation by being obedient.”  So many people preach the grace of God and resolutely deny—even ridicule the very idea—that obedience is necessary.  “That’s salvation by works!” they cry.  My friends, God’s grace and mercy are amazing things, but they only come to those who are willing to obey Him.  Matthew 7:21 – not all that say to Me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father which is in heaven.”  Or Hebrews 5:9 – Jesus Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him.”  Christians—those who have received the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from sin—are told “faith without works is dead” (James 2).

Disobedience Hinders the Cause of Christ.

Because the former leper disobeyed, Jesus was unable to do His work the way He had planned.  Surely the leper didn’t mean to cause problems and didn’t have ill-motives when he happily told others about his healing.  However, his disobedience ended up making the work of the Lord more difficult, and led to His enemies—the scribes and Pharisees—coming to watch Him; and thus began the antagonistic relationship they had with our Lord.  The same thing can happen to us, when we disobey God today, even without ill intentions, we can do harm to the cause of Christ.  One weekday afternoon, as we were driving down the interstate, we were passed by a car going at least 80 mph, and on the back of their car, it was advertised “Follow me to the ______ church of Christ.”  An honest-hearted person who was looking for a church would quite possibly have said, “Well, we won’t be going there” because they obviously have no respect for the law.

People watch you, and how you act reflects on the church and therefore on Jesus as well.

Leprosy is like Sin.

  • Like leprosy, sin has a small beginning, but then it spreads over the entire man.
  • Its cure is beyond the reach of human skill or natural remedies.
  • It is painful, loathsome, degrading, and fatal.
  • It separates its victim from the pure and drives him into association with the impure.
  • It is a foe to religious privileges.
  • It can be remedied by God. (anonymous)

Invitation

Sin, like leprosy, is a curse.  But unlike leprosy, there is a cure for sin which is available for all people, if they would simply come to Jesus, the compassionate King, who came to this earth and lived a life among sinful, fallen humanity.  In His compassion and love, He showed us how to live, pointed the way to the Father, and died so that we could be cleansed from our sins.

All He asks of you is that you believe in Him, repent of your sinful life, acknowledge Him as the Savior, and be baptized into His death so that you may rise to walk in newness of life.  If we to make the parallel with the story of the leper, it’s come to Jesus in humble submissiveness, bowing down at His feet through obedience to His command to be baptized.  It’s at that point that Jesus touches us and makes us whole, free from sin.  Afterwards, Jesus expects us to follow God’s law, or to put it another way, “walk in the light” or “be faithful.”

Won’t you come and accept the compassionate Savior today?

 

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