THE WILLING HEALER
There was no more feared disease in the ancient world than that of leprosy. Our word “leprosy” is taken from the Greek word leproV, which comes from a root describing a scale or an incrustation. The Hebrew word for leprosy (Tsara’ath) comes from the root word meaning “to scourge or strike.”
Most of the classical writers agreed that leprosy originated in Egypt. Perhaps the Israelites brought it with them when they came out of Egypt in the Exodus. Leprosy has been found in at least one mummy.
Leprosy is a disease which attacks the nervous system. It its early stages, it produces a numbing of the fingers and the toes. Once you lose all sensation, you can rub your extremities right off without realizing it.
In his fictional book “Lord Foul’s Bane”, Stephen Donaldson gives a graphic representation of a man in the advanced stages of leprosy.
“His hands were swollen stumps, fingerless stumps of pink, sick meat marked by cracks and ulcerations from which a yellow exudation oozed through the medication. They hung on thin, hooped arms like awkward sticks. And even though his legs were covered by his hospital pajamas, they looked like gnarled wood. Half of one foot was gone, gnawed away, and in the place of the other was nothing but an unhealable wound. His dull, cataractal eyes sat in his face as if they were the center of an eruption. The skin of his cheeks was as white-pink as an albino’s; it bulged and poured away from his eyes in waves, runnulets, as if it had been heated to the melting point; and these waves were edged with the tubercular nodules.” (Lord Foul’s Bane, Stephen Donaldson, 1977, Page 15).
I didn’t give you that quotation merely for its shock value. I had a very specific reason. I want you to see how God views sin. You see, leprosy was the most graphic illustration that there was of sin. Sin defiles the whole body. Sin is ugly and loathsome. It is incurable. It contaminates the entire body. And it brings about eventual death.
There was a terrible stigma connected to leprosy. The leper was excluded from worship within the temple. He was shunned by his family and friends. When traveling down a road, he was required to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!”
A HUMBLE REQUEST
And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40).
Imagine the scene. Jesus has been going from city to city throughout Galilee, teaching crowds of people. Suddenly, from the back of one such crowd, there is a commotion. There are shouts of surprise and disgust as the people surge apart and give way before a hooded figure. Mutterings of “Dirty leper!” move through the crowd.
As the people move back, giving the afflicted figure a wide berth, Jesus stands His ground. Instead of hatred or fear, an expression of compassion crosses His features. The leper comes forward and makes his request.
1. Notice the HUMILITY of the request.
He did not demand a healing. Neither did he complain that it was unfair that he was afflicted in this way. He did not talk about his civil rights. He only stated a fact. He said that Jesus was able to heal him. This brings us to our second observation.
2. Notice the FAITH of the request.
This man came in faith. He seems fully convinced that Jesus was able to heal him. He was past the point of having anywhere else to turn. And so, he came to Jesus.
3. Notice the LORDSHIP reflected in the request.
The leper came and fell upon his knees. He took a position of worship (Matthew’s account says that he worshiped Jesus). It is popular among certain Christian circles to teach that you need to claim you healing and that, if you have enough faith, you will be healed. This man had faith. But his faith did not negate the Lordship of the healer. The issue to him was not whether Jesus COULD heal, but whether He WOULD heal.
This man’s leprosy gave him the gift of insight. He saw in a short time that which would take Peter several years to see. He saw that Jesus was the Christ.
Abraham Lincoln told a story of how he was plowing a field when his brother happened by and noticed that there was a horsefly on the flank of the mule, biting him. The brother reached out and flicked off the horsefly. Lincoln asked, “What did you do that for? That horsefly was the only thing making this mule go.”
Sometimes it takes the bite of a horsefly to make a mule go. And sometimes it takes the bite of affliction to bring us to God.
My most intense prayers have been in the times of deepest need. It is when I have been knocked flat on my back that I begin to look up. The truth is that we just won’t go to Jesus apart from the leprosy.
A COMPASSIONATE RESPONSE
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:41-42).
You have probably heard it said (with some truth) that the main reason Jesus performed miracles was to provide credentials for His ministry. These miracles were the calling card from God. They were the evidence that Jesus was really from heaven.
And yet, there was another, more compelling reason for this miracle. It was because Jesus was moved with compassion. He cared. And because He cared, He healed this man.
1. He healed through a touch.
Verse 41 says that He stretched out His hand and touched him. You cannot know the full impact of what this meant to a Jew without growing up in a Jewish culture. To touch a leper meant that you could no longer enter into the temple to worship.
Jesus touched him. He was probably the first non-leper to have touched him since he had contacted the disease.
What is more, Jesus didn’t have to touch him. Jesus could have healed this man without touching him. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of Him healing a royal official’s son from a distance of 18 miles. He could have simply said the words and this man’s leprosy would have vanished. But instead, He reached out and He touched him.
That is what the incarnation is all about. It is the pure and holy God who reached down to touch our dirty world and to walk our dirty streets and to die on our dirty cross. It is about TOUCHING.
If we are going to change our world for Christ, we need to be incarnational. We need to reach out and touch someone with the love of Jesus..
Jesus did not become unclean. Instead, the leper became clean. When we touch a disease, we become contaminated. When He touched a disease, the disease went away.
This tells me something about Jesus. No matter how bad you are, you can’t get Jesus dirty when you come to Him. You can’t shock Jesus. He has seen it all. He knows the bad you really are. He knows all of those secret sins. And He is compassionate and able to make you clean.
2. He healed immediately.
Verse 42 says that immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. This was not a gradual healing process in which there was a slow remission of the disease. It was immediate and sudden. One moment the man was full of leprosy and the next moment there was not a bit of the disease left.
A SOLEMN COMMAND
And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:43-44).
Now Jesus gives this man a command. The command is just the opposite of what we would have expected. We would have expected to hear Jesus say, “Now I want you to go out and tell everyone you see the good news of the power of God. Bear witness of Me to all of the nations that you were a leper and the now you have been healed.” Instead, Jesus gives the man a very different command. Actually, there are two.
1. He is to say nothing to anyone.
2. As he continues to say nothing, he is to travel down to Jerusalem to the temple and show himself to the priest.
Why is he to go to the priest? Because this man is going to be a personal witness to the high priesthood in Jerusalem.
You see, there was a very specific ritual that was prescribed in the Old Testament Scriptures which dealt with what you do when a man is healed of leprosy.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest. 3 And the priest shall look, and if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper, 4 then the priest shall give orders to take to live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed.” (Leviticus 14:1-4).
The passage goes on to relate very specific rituals through which a man was required to go in order to be brought back into the worship of the temple.
This formula had not been utilized for over a thousand years. The last recorded instance of a Jewish person being healed of leprosy had been that of Miriam, sister to Moses.
Can you imagine the priests being confronted by this man? They have to go in and dust off the scroll of Leviticus which deals with the Law of the Leper. They remember studying this passage in rabbinical school, but they haven’t had any need to refer to it since graduation. And so, they must brush up on the prescribed rituals.
They will check him thoroughly and they will pronounce him clean of any infection. And then, their curiosity will get the better of them and they will ask him how he came to be cleansed of this dreaded disease. And they will learn that they have just confirmed the power of Jesus by their own testimony. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen that way. The reason is because of disobedience.
AN IMPULSIVE DISOBEDIENCE
But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere. (Mark 1:45).
This man has a decision to make. Is he going to be obedient to Jesus and to the Mosaic Law? Or is he going to do what FEELS right?
Moses commanded that if a leper were cleansed, he must go through this very specific ritual. Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but rather to fulfill it. Jesus commanded the man in accordance with the Mosaic Law.
The man responded in zeal and excitement and a willingness to spread the news of the work of God. Unfortunately, he also responded in disobedience.
There is a lesson here. It is that zeal and excitement and enthusiasm are no substitute for obedience. When you do God’s work, you need to do it in God’s way. If you don’t do God’s work in God’s way, then you are not doing God’s work.
The result of this man’s disobedience had an impact upon the ministry of Jesus. It meant that “Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas.” The synagogue ministry of Jesus was stopped for a time. We live in an age of situational ethics. You are often tempted to do a wrong thing in order to bring about a right result. But it is never right to do wrong. Christian ethics are hardly ever situational; and when they are, it is the situation which is wrong, not the ethics.