JESUS CLEANSES THE LEPER
Written by Pastor James Dorman
1. Thoughts by Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
Matthew 8:2–4 (NIV84) “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.””
Mark 1:40–45 (NIV84) “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”
Luke 5:12–16 (NIV84) “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”” 15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
2. Passage Outline
Following His Cleansing, The Leper Forgets His Vow
Matt. 8:2-4; Mk. 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16
I. While Jesus was in One of the Cities, a Leper asked to be Cleansed (Matt. 8:2; Mk 1:40; Lk. 5:12)
II. Jesus Heals Him & Charges Him to Say Nothing, Present Himself to the Priest, and to be Legally Cleansed ( 8:3-4; Mk. 1:41-44; Lk. 5:13-14)
III. The Leper Spoke, the Fame of Jesus Spread, and Jesus was Forced to Withdraw to the Wilderness to Pray ( 1:45; Luke 5:15-16)
3. Information to Consider
Legalistic religion stalks the steps of Jesus as He preaches in the synagogues of the cities of Galilee. Like two large ships on a crash course with no time for turning, a collision is inevitable. His Good News challenges the drudgery of the Law; His authority threatens the legitimacy of the scribes; and His concern for human need tears at the traditions of the established church. It happens so naturally and so innocently. When Jesus takes compassion upon a leper and touches him, He is propelled into an era of contending for the truth against a dead orthodoxy and deadly opponents.
Relive the scene with Jesus when the leper comes to Him, violating the taboos by begging, kneeling and speaking to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean” (v. 40). These are the words of a person with one last desperate hope. Even then, with a life history of disappointment, he qualifies his pleading with the contingency, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Here is the early and yet ultimate test of the feelings of Jesus. During His ministry, He will meet the full range of physical needs—blindness, blood disease, epilepsy, palsy, paralysis, and even insanity. But of all these diseases, leprosy is the symbol of hopelessness. A leper is not only considered physically incurable, but he also suffers under social rejection and spiritual condemnation. Never forget, Jesus hears the scum of the earth cry out, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Philip Yancey, in his helpful book Where Is God When It Hurts, singles out leprosy as the most hopeless of all diseases. Physically, leprosy seems incurable because it reverses the pain process. Most diseases have pain as an early warning system that helps in healing. Leprosy is just the opposite. The disease destroys the signal system for pain, leaving the body without its natural protection against self-destruction. A leper is burned, cut, and broken without the warning of pain. Skin falls off, fingers, arms, toes, and legs die and drop away in defiance of the normal process of the body to heal itself. In the absence of pain, the leper loses the hope of healing.
Leprosy is also a hopeless social disease. Because lepers are so grotesque, respectable society labels them contagious and sends them into exile. It is one thing to be condemned to die, but it is quite another thing to die in isolation. Lepers are to cry out, “Unclean, Unclean,” wherever they walk. Decent people avoid the contamination of even their shadows.
Here is the test. Before Jesus’ ministry has gained full momentum, He meets a leper who cries out from the outer edge of human need, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” What will Jesus do? If He can love, touch, and heal a leper, everyone else has hope. What will Jesus do?
Mark leaves no doubt about Jesus’ response. As Peter remembers it: “Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’” (Mark 1:41).
To match the most difficult of human needs, Jesus responds with the deepest of human feelings. As with us, Jesus knows the full range of human emotion. He knows cheer, anger, disappointment, laughter, sighing, displeasure, surprise, impatience, exhilaration, and depression. Among all of these feelings, compassion stands out as the deepest of all human emotions and as the truest expression of the heart of Jesus. The word “compassion” derives from the same Greek word that means “viscera, bowels, intestines,” or in our vernacular, “guts.” When we read that Jesus is moved with compassion, it means that He feels Himself so deeply into the sufferings of the leper that it is just as if He Himself is suffering as a leper. Jesus is not moved with pity—that is too condescending; not with sympathy—that is too superficial; not with empathy—that is too distant. Not just mind for mind, hand for hand, or even heart for heart, but stomach for stomach, blood for blood, gut for gut, Jesus feels His way into the leper’s needs.
To feel with compassion is not enough. Jesus reaches out and touches the leper! Violating every medical warning and risking every social taboo, Jesus lets the leper know that He will take his place—not just in the risk of physical contagion, but in social contamination as well. How little we know of true compassion!
My wife and I edged up to the meaning of compassion when we got a midnight telephone call from our son-in-law in the Midwest. He told us that our daughter, his wife, was two months pregnant, but as children are wont to do, she had kept it a secret until she could tell us personally. They hadn’t counted on a Saturday night miscarriage. Our son-in-law informed us that Debi had been rushed into emergency surgery in order to save her life. The surgery was predicted to last for about two hours and he would call us as soon as she came out.
We learned long distance what it means to have compassion. If time had permitted, no airplane would have flown across the country without us on it. Instead, we had to wait, suffer, and pray. No sleep came to my wife or me. Quite the opposite, we became physically sick, particularly after one hour edged into two, and two crawled through eternity into three hours without a word. Stomach for stomach, blood for blood, we were in an emergency room in Lansing, Michigan, with our daughter until word came that all was well.
In this case, the life of our beautiful daughter, whom we love so deeply, was at stake, and we were moved with compassion. Transfer that same love and those same feelings to Jesus, who reaches out and touches a leper who is just one among many of the wretched of the earth. Again, I say, how little we know about compassion. Why? Because compassion is so costly.
Jesus has a choice to make. Will He respond to the leper at the risk of limiting His ministry and prematurely provoking the opposition of the established church? Or will He reject the leper at the risk of losing the purpose for which He has come, “Not … to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (10:45)? Jesus chooses the leper, but not without a price. Instead of presenting himself to the priest and entering the ritual for cleansing, the leper becomes a one-man whirlwind telling the story of his cleansing wherever he goes.
What a cost for compassion! Jesus has to give up His ministry in that city for the sake of a single soul. From now on, the people will have to come to Him in out-of-the-way, desert places. More than that, the leper’s lips set the edge of legal opposition to Jesus. Conflict now becomes His never-ending and ever-escalating fact of life.
4. Questions to Ponder
a. Meaning of “for your cleansing”? (Mk. 1:44)
b. How would the cleansing be a “testimony unto them” (the Priests)? (Matt. 8:4)
c. Which gospel describes Jesus’ emotion before healing the man? What was the emotion?
5. Author’s Comments
One of the great challenges in Christian ministry is accepting the reality of personal limitations when helping others face challenges in their families and selves. I do not remember how many times I have said, “If God had given me a magic wand, I would bop you on the head and these issues would just disappear!” As powerful as our God is and as present is the Holy Spirit is in our lives, God has chosen to act differently in our age than He did in the Apostolic era.
In stating this reality, in no way am I limiting what God might choose to do in our time, but He has chosen not to allow us to change every physical, spiritual, emotional nor social realities just because we say so. While I have experienced and seen others experience miraculous manifestations of God’s healing touch during my Christian life, it has been in the same way it was manifested in the lives of the Apostles.
I share this because of the words of the leper in Mark 1:40: “If you are willing, you can make me clean!” In Jesus’ mind, in the mind of the leper, and in in my mind, there was and is no limitation in Jesus’ ability to heal us physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially other than His willingness to do so. I do not know why He responded by healing the leper and chose not to respond to my requests to heal my grandson. I do not know why He might answer the prayers of others and seem to ignore the cries of your heart in your current situation. But, I do know Jesus has the power to heal any issue and we must trust in His response to our cries for only He truly knows how best to respond in each situation.
So, when we do not experience the immediate healing as did the leper, let us remember God is not yet finished in touching our lives. While He did not heal the maladies experienced by my grandson the moment of my request, I know I will see my grandson again on the day of Resurrection. Because on that day, God will display to the entire world any inactivity on His part was not a matter of insufficiency, but simply one of a wiser choice!
6. Closing Prayer
Thank You for the opportunity to review Your actions throughout human history. As we read of Jesus’ encounter with the leper, we find so much hope and comfort in the reality there is no situation in which Jesus was unable to respond.
As we face our physical, spiritual, emotional, and social challenges, may we trust in Jesus’ abilities and power to make each and every situation work out according to Your plan. Whether this occurs now or in the future, we will always choose to trust in Your wisdom.
In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!
7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”
a. Jesus wanted him to present himself to a priest to fulfill the mosaic law that the person was indeed cleansed. After presenting himself to the priest, paying the amount due for the service, and pronounced to be clean, the man could go on his way and return to society.
b. The ceremony of cleansing must be complied with at once with the utmost secrecy. If not, the priests in Jerusalem might refuse to accept him as being cured. (Shepard)
c. Mark 1:40-41. Compassion.