A list of the top 10 miracles of Jesus might include:
Though the healing the leper is a miracle not likely to crack your top ten, with the exception of the resurrection, I see it as probably one of the most important miracles of Jesus’ ministry.
Mark 1:40, “Now a leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”
“Now a leper...” In order to understand the significance of the miracle about to take place you have to understand the significance of the man’s request; but to understand the significance of His request, you must first understand the plight of this man living with leprosy:
What is Leprosy? Leprosy (which is today commonly known as “Hanson’s Disease”) is a bacteria (Mycobacterium Leprae) that infects and destroys a person’s nervous system.
Though treatable, even today, the disease is considered incurable.
15 million people worldwide are diagnosed yearly with 150 cases in the U.S.
Because the Leprae bacteria prefers warmer temperatures, it initially effects a person’s skin before moving to the appendages (hands, feet, nose, ears, etc.).
Symptoms of Leprosy? In whatever area of the body the bacteria resides, leprosy slowly destroys nerve-endings producing numbness, insensitivity to pain and touch, and later disfigurement. Explain how leprosy develops…
Note: Limbs do not rot and fall off like it is commonly believed. As you can imagine, this growing insensitivity to pain and touch often causes accidental disfigurements of the appendages. Provide a few examples. Imagine loosing the ability to feel human touch?
Here’s what’s crazy… All of that isn’t even the worst part! Because leprosy is slow moving, people are forced to live with the disease up to 9 to 10 years before finally dying an agonizing death. During Jesus’ day lepers were commonly known as the “Living Dead.”
The emotional, social, and religious effects of leprosy were equally brutal.
Religious Effects of Leprosy: In Leviticus 13 a person showing the early signs of the disease had to come to the temple and be officially inspected by the priests. If they were diagnosed as being infected they were immediately declared “unclean” and were no longer allowed to come worship God in the temple or make sacrifices to atone for sin.
Note: Tragically, the religious leaders believed leprosy was outward evidence of God’s judgment for some inward sin. Therefore, leprosy was viewed as God’s punishment. The religious leaders called the disease the “finger of god.”
Social Effects of Leprosy: Though modern medicine has discovered that leprosy is not contagious, in the first century, the disease was shrouded in so much mystery that a leper was permanently quarantined for the rest of his or her life.
Not even allowed to return home, following the diagnosis, a leper was immediately forced to leave behind his family, friends, work, and community. To cope with the loss, most families had a funeral for their loved one. In the end, lepers were forced to live as outcast in colonies with other lepers.
Emotional Effects of Leprosy: Though Mark doesn’t indicate how long this man had been dealing with the disease, Luke’s Gospel describes him as being “full of leprosy” when he comes to Jesus.
Since his disease was advanced we can conclude the following:
He’s been condemned by the priests and alienated from God.
He’s been forced to watch his wife and kids move on with their lives.
His body has slowly become a horrific shell of its former self.
He has zero hope that his future includes anything but a lonely death.
And yet in spite of all this, we’re told this Leper “Came to Jesus...” Though Mark doesn’t give us the location for this particular event, it seems from Matthew’s account, that Jesus has just finished teaching the Sermon on the Mount when this Leper comes making his way through the crowd trying to get to Jesus.
Imagine the scene: Since leprosy was believed to be contagious, the Law stipulated that a Leper had to stay about 100ft away from “clean” people, ring a bell when he’d approach, and cry out “unclean, unclean” so people could get out of his way.
Consider the ridicule, humiliation, scorn, and obscenities this man faced when he abandoned the normal protocol and made his way through the crowd to Jesus.
Also note… Mark says the man came “to Jesus, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him.” The picture painted in the Greek is one of deep desperation, respect, and faith. Obviously, this Leper didn’t care what anyone thought of him. He counted the cost and was determined to make his way to Jesus.
We’re also told that as he makes his way through the crowd he was “saying... IF You are willing, You CAN make me clean.” The verb tense in the Greek indicates the Leper was repeating his request. As he approaches Jesus, over and over again, he was making this honest, sincere, desperate plea for healing… “If you are willing… If you are willing…”
There are a few things we should note concerning his request of Jesus:
First… His request indicated correct priorities. It’s been said, “This leper came not asking what Jesus could give him, but rather what Jesus could make him.” His request “make me clean” revealed the only thing that mattered to this man at this point in his life was being healed of this incurable disease.
Second… His request demonstrated incredible faith in Jesus. “You can” demonstrate a belief that Jesus possessed the power to heal him. What made his faith incredible: Jesus has never healed a leper before! Faith is the spiritual muscle that connects believe with action.
Finally… His request revealed the saddest of all realities. Though the man never questions Jesus’ ability, sadly he does question Jesus’ willingness... “If you are willing?” Why would this man doubt Jesus’ willingness? Don’t forget... The religious culture had told him his condition was the judgment of God (consequence of his own sin and misdeeds). He’d gone to the Temple and received his death sentence. As such it would appear this leper knew forgiveness of sin would have to come before his healing of leprosy.
Side Point: It’s incredible he saw in Jesus not only the ability to heal him physically, but also the ability to forgive him of his sins!
What becomes interesting about all of this is that… While this man believed Jesus could heal him of his leprosy, it would appear from his appeal that he wasn’t as confident Jesus was willing to forgive him of his sin.
Before we continue it’s important to point out that while this man didn’t have leprosy because of sin, leprosy is presented in Scripture as a picture for sin! It’s not an accident that the very center of Leviticus (chapters 13 & 14) which was considered the center of the Mosaic Law contained the protocols for diagnosing leprosy, as well as, declaring if a person had been healed.
In order for the people to understand the full consequences of their sin and its effects, God used the disease of leprosy as an object lesson - mainly because the effects of leprosy bore such a striking resemblance to the effects of sin.
Consider the three immediate results of Adam and Eve’s original sin:
1. Sin yielded similar physical consequences as leprosy.
“In the day that you eat of the fruit, you shall die.”
Leprosy and sin numbed and dulled a person’s sensitivities.
Leprosy and sin slowly destroy the body.
Leprosy and sin carried an immediate death sentence.
2. Sin yielded similar social consequences as leprosy.
Though created for perfect community with one another sin immediately created a complex wedge between Adam and Eve which would yield tragic results in their kids. Sinful choices can so quickly destroy a family and alienate you from friends.
Additionally, it’s simply a truth that like leprosy sin destroys our ability to have real community only essential in diversity. Sure a leper had friends, but it was only with people who shared the same condition. Sin makes it impossible to enjoy relationships with people who are fundamentally different from us!
3. Ultimately, sin and leprosy both separated a person from God.
Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and a leper was forever denied access to the Temple. He was separated from atonement. Leprosy and sin separate you from God. Sadly, the Law could diagnose the disease, but never provide a remedy.
With all of this in mind this is what the Leper is saying in his appeal “If you are willing you can make me clean…” “Jesus, I know that I am a sinner condemned by my sin. And though I’m confident you can heal me, I honestly don’t know if you are willing to forgive!” How interesting that so many people, effected by sin, have the same doubts concerning Jesus? It’s not His ability to save, but His willingness!
Mark 1:41-42, “Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.”
“Then Jesus, moved with compassion...” Literally Jesus was “emotionally moved - He was stirred - He was gripped in the deepest part of His being” by this man’s situation. In his compassion Jesus saw in this man, more than a leper, but a picture of the tragic plight of all humanity infected with the disease of sin! In the leper He saw you and I!
And yet, we see more than compassion demonstrated by Jesus… We see action. We’re told Jesus “stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.”
Two immediate results that followed this man’s encounter with Jesus:
1. “Immediately the leprosy left him...” “Immediately” the man was no longer stricken with the disease. He instantly experienced a complete and total healing. He would present himself to the priest who would declare him to be “clean.”
In the moment he encountered Jesus his relationship with God and access to the temple was reinstated. For the first time in years he would be allowed to return to his family and friends. This man’s life had been redeemed from sin and restored by Jesus! An encounter with Jesus gave him life when he only expected death, hope when he only knew despair, joy when he only knew pain, acceptance when he only knew rejection, love when he only knew hate.
2. “He was cleansed...” Though Jesus had freed this man from leprosy, Jesus does something else amazing.... He cleans him up! Not only did Jesus free him from the disease, but the passage implies that Jesus also reversed the full effects this disease had on his body. I’m convinced his body was instantly restored to what it had been previously.
Friend, please understand Jesus not only desires to cleans you of sin, but He desires to reverse the effects a life in sin has had on your life. Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
If you carefully examine the order of events something significant emerges... The Leper came to Jesus… Jesus saw his condition… Jesus was moved with compassion… Jesus reached out and touched him… Then Jesus spoke to him “I am willing, be cleansed.” At which point the leprosy left the man and he was healed.
Q: Why is this so significant?
First… You don’t have to clean yourselves up to come to Jesus.
This amazing story illustrates that you are invited to come to Jesus exactly the way that you are knowing that Jesus is not only willing to forgive, but He’s willing to reach down, touch your life identifying Himself with your condition, and then heal you from the consequences of your sin! 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Note: Confession and forgiveness always come before cleansing.
Second… In the Gospel of John you’ll discover seven “I am” statements made by Jesus: “I am the Bread of Life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, I am the True Vine.” But you know I believed there is an eighth “I am” statement that might carry with it the most radical presentation of the heart of Jesus. Imagine the impact those words carried with them when they rang in the ears of this Leper... “I am willing!”
How did this man know Jesus was willing? Keep in mind what kind of reaction the crowd would have had when Jesus reached out and touch a man filled with leprosy… In the singular moment, according to the Law, Jesus would have been unclean! And yet, no one would be able to prove it because the leper He touch was then immediately cleansed.
The implications is that Jesus took the man’s leprosy upon Himself so that the leper could be healed. How interesting that we’re told… 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Understand… How are we assured Jesus is willing to cleans us from our sin? He allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross to demonstrate His willingness!
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