Miracle 6:
Cleansing the Leper

Intro:   David Ring is a preacher who has cerebral palsy. David has cerebral palsy and a speech impediment so bad that you can barely understand him. But he held 11,000 people in that arena spellbound for twenty minutes. He told how as a little boy he was close to his mother, and when she died, he had nowhere to turn but to the Lord. He then said, "They said I would never ride a bike, but I did. They said I would never get married, but I did; I have five kids to prove it. They said I would never preach, but last year I preached 265 times. I have cerebral palsy, but I preach. What's your problem?"

   During a recent two day meeting some of the greatest speakers in the world spoke and the crowd never shed a tear. But  when David Ring spoke that morning, tears poured from the audiences eyes. What God didn't do through some of the best known authors in the land, he did through a young man with cerebral palsy.  If that young man with his trial can still preach, what can you with your health do. 

Jean Smith cancer “Pray for me” “My disease is not as bad as some I have seen.” 

Perhaps we never feel so helpless when we see the struggles of those who have incurable ailments and disease. They desire their health, but it is often lost permanently. Jesus handles a hopeless case and teaches us the important of showing compassion.                       

A.     Passage Selected: Mark 1:40-45

40And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; 44And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 45But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter. 

Also in Matt 8:1-4

1When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. 2And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 

B. Progression Stated: Logical

Cause/effect relationship.  The miracle is designed to gain a reaction among the priests. 

C. Presentation Summarized:

1. Context

a. Cultural background

Leprosy was especially bad because:

·            It was repulsive to all who saw the person

1.     tuberculoid leprosy, the skin lesions are few and small, with only a few bacteria present in each.

2.     In lepromatous leprosy, the more severe form of the disease, the lesions may be much more widespread and contain many leprosy bacteria.

3.     As lepromatous leprosy progresses, hard nodules and folds of skin may form on the face and the nose may collapse, giving a person a characteristic lion like appearance – Encarta 

4.     A slowly progressing and intractable disease characterized by subcutaneous nodules scabs or cuticular crusts and white shining spots appearing to be deeper than the skin.

5.     Other signs are (1) that the hairs of the affected part turn white and (2) that later there is a growth of “quick raw flesh.” This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing

·          It was incurable by human means -

1.     Currently the only strategy for preventing the spread of leprosy is treatment of  existing cases.

2.     Development of a test to detect infection with the leprosy bacterium before signs and symptoms appear would bolster this strategy.

3.     A vaccine developed to fight tuberculosis, which is caused by a bacterium closely related to the leprosy bacterium, appears to offer some protection against leprosy.

4.     Although the vaccine is not very effective against tuberculosis itself, scientists hope that improved antituberculosis vaccines currently being developed will also offer protection against leprosy. In addition, they are continuing to search for a vaccine directed specifically against leprosy.

b. Literary context

In Mark 1:38, after the disciples come to Jesus to tell Him that "Everyone is looking for him," Jesus tells them that He came here to preach. 38And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. There will be something that happens in the miracle that will relate back to this.  So, don’t forget this statement.

 

This miracle follows the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel.  In the sermon on the mount, Jesus had said in Matt 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” Then right after the sermon, a leper comes up to Jesus and He touches him, which is a violation of the Law.  Perhaps that is significant.

2. Cause of the miracle  1:40-42

a. The trust of the leper  (40)

1.       Ray Stedman has some very good observations on this passage:

2.       I think this indicates something of an awareness on the leper’s part of a divine purpose there may have been in his affliction.

3.       It may perhaps be difficult for some of us to handle the concept, but the Scriptures are very clear that sometimes God wills us to be sick. Not that this is the expression of his ultimate desire for men, but that, given the circumstances in which we now live and the fallen nature of humanity, there are times when God wills for his children to pass through physical affliction.

4.       You see numerous examples of this in the Scriptures. Paul came before the Lord and asked three times for the removal of a physical "thorn in the flesh". Finally the answer came, "My grace is sufficient for you."

5.       Paul understood that God wanted him to put up with it, learn how to handle it by the grace of God. So it is clear that it is not the teaching of Scripture that everybody must be healed.

6.       This leper is a case in point. Evidently he sensed some purpose in this, and when he said, "If you will, you can make me clean," he did not mean by that, "If you’re in a good mood at present..." He meant, rather, "If it is not out of line with the purpose of God, if it is not violating some cosmic program God is working out, then you can make me clean."

7.       He does not doubt Jesus’ power, and he submits to His will.  He submits to the person of God.  We need to do the same.  We are to know God can do whatever He wants and trust Him.  If He is willing, He will.  We just have to trust in the goodness of God.

8.       The leper models a humble approach and makes a humble request. This is actually the language of worship - bowing down, kneeling, etc.  Jesus accepts it.

b. The touch of the Lord  (41-42)

1.       Verse 41 says, “Moved with compassion…”

2.       The verb means to "move the bowels."  And it came to mean, "to move with compassion."  You might say that to not have compassion equals "spiritual constipation."

3.       Jesus says, “I am willing, be cleansed.” Going back to what Stedman said, Jesus’ statement, “I am willing” is like a green light from God. It says the time has come for the healing to occur. Whatever purposes the leprosy may have served, it has been accomplished, and the time was come to set it aside.

4.       He reached out his hand and touched the leper.  Jesus doesn’t always lay hands on those that He is healing.  When He does, we ought to ask if it has significance. What is the significance here?

5.       Were you supposed to touch a leper? No. That would make you unclean.

6.       Haggai 2: If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. 13Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean  talks about becoming unclean by touching something unclean.  If a doctor scrubs down, puts on his gown and gloves and then shakes hands with someone on the way to the operating room, does he make the other person sterile?  Of course not.

7.       The only way you can touch someone or something unclean and not become unclean yourself is if you make the other person or thing clean.  You can’t both stay the same.  There is only one person who can transfer cleanness. God. When Jesus touched the leper and healed the leper, he was making another claim to deity.

3. Consequences of the miracle 1:43-45

a. Obedience desired (43-44) 43And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; 44And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 45But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.

1.       Jesus told the former leper to "tell no man and show himself to the priest."

2.       He wanted the man to keep his healing a secret. Scholars often talk about something called the “Messianic Secret” in the Gospel of Mark.  The liberal German scholars said Jesus didn’t want people he healed to tell others that He was the Messiah, because Jesus knew He really wasn’t the Messiah.  That is ludicrous. 

3.       But if that is not the reason, then why does He often tell people not to say anything?

4.       I think there are a couple reasons:

a.       First, from the context (cf vs. 38) we know that Jesus’ primary purpose was to preach. He didn’t want the crowds clamoring to Him to be healed. He wanted them to come to hear His words. If word got out about the healing of a leper, it would distract from his main purpose.

b.       A second reason that Jesus didn’t want them to go around proclaiming that He was the Messiah was because their expectation of the Messiah was that the Messiah was a political deliverer.  The Jews wanted someone who would free them from the Roman rule and set up a political kingdom. During this advent Jesus’ role was as a Suffering Messiah who came to serve and to die.  He was going to set up a spiritual kingdom. 

5.       So, Jesus didn’t want to use the misunderstood title and substituted other titles for Himself such as “Son of Man.” As a matter of fact, He’ll use that title in our next miracle.

b. Disobedience demonstrated (45)

1.                   It is hard to believe that that someone who benefits from a miraculous healing by Jesus would turn right around and disobey Him. 

2.                   But this man did just that.  We don’t know for sure if the man told the priests because the text doesn’t say that he did or didn’t. I think that he probably did obey the first half of the command (to show himself to the priest).

3.                    We have to remember that he had been an outcast. If he wanted to re-enter society, he would have had to go to the priests to be pronounced clean so he could re-enter the community. We do know for sure that he doesn’t remain silent. Perhaps he was too excited. You might call it “impulsive proclamation.”

4.                   The disobedience is deplorable because it hindered the ministry of the Lord. So many people were coming to Him to be healed that He couldn’t do what He really wanted to do, which was to preach (cf. vs 38).  He knew that this would happen.  That’s why He told the leper to be silent.

II. INTERPRETATION

A. The purpose of going to the priest was to announce to the priests that the Messiah was present.

1.       This is the stated purpose for the miracle in Mark 1:44.  Leprosy was incurable by human ability, so the priests should have recognized the healing of the leper as a sign that Messiah was present.

2.       This is an announcement to the priests that the Messiah is here. Does this contradict what we talked about earlier concerning the people looking for a political Messiah?  No.  The priests should have been looking for a Savior Messiah, that is why Jesus didn’t mind them knowing about the cleansing of the leper.

3.       In Matt 11:5 John’s disciples are questioning Jesus to see if He is the Messiah.  Jesus quotes from Isa 35. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist is look at my works.  They fulfill the prophecies. Healing lepers was one of the signs. Also cf. Luke 7:22.

B. The purpose for the disciples was to model the compassion of the Savior for those who were normally outcast.

1.        They were to do likewise.

2.       1 John 3:16-18 16Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.

C. The purpose for the individual

1. Physical healing

2. Restoration into the community

Sending the ex-leper to the priests was as much for the man’s benefit as it was a sign for the priests.

3. Spiritual awakening to who Jesus was.

Jesus responded to the man’s faith and healed him.  If there were any doubts in the man as to the identity of Jesus, they were erased.

D. The impulsive proclamation of the man hindered the testimony and work of God.

Remember in Mark 1:38 that Jesus said He came here to preach.  That was His primary purpose at that point in His ministry.  When the man disobeyed, He forced Jesus to go to a different place to preach where He was not so well known.

III. APPLICATIONS

·          Genuine compassion has no limits. True compassion reaches even to the lowest level.  Compassion is always necessary when working with people because we all fail. 

1.       We make terrible mistakes, commit terrible sins, etc.

2.       It is our natural inclination and the easiest to move toward contempt of the down and outers (like the Pharisees did).

3.       But we need to move toward compassion, like Jesus did.  When we don’t have compassion, it is because we think that we are better than others.

4.        We think that they are in their situation because of some fault of their own and we wouldn’t have done whatever it was that got them in that position.

5.       So, if we don’t have compassion, the reason may be pride.

·          The leper said, "If you are willing … " We need to recognize that God has the ability to heal (or do whatever), but we also need to recognize that He has the right not to do anything.  We need to recognize that we don’t know what is best.  He does. Some people in the Charismatic movement claim that God always wants to heal us.  But Jesus does not correct the leper when he says, "If you are willing …"

·          Jesus not only has the ability to save, He has the authority to command.  Therefore, we learn about Jesus’ power as well as his authority.

·          Faith needs to be followed by obedience.  It is not enough to be just cured or cleansed. The spiritual parallel is that it is not enough to be saved.

·         Obedience is preferred over impulse. Disobedience hinders God’s work.