Also in Matt 8:1-4
Cause/effect relationship. The miracle is designed to gain a reaction among the priests.
One person outlined this as: A Bold Request, A Healing Caress, A Warning Transgressed
Leprosy was especially bad because:
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. 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.
Ray Stedman has some very good observations on this passage:
I think this indicates something of an awareness on the leper’s part of a divine purpose there may have been in his affliction. 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. 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.” 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.
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.”3
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.
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.
Verse 41 says, “Moved with compasstion…” There is a textual variant here.4 Some manuscripts have “moved with anger” instead of “moved with compassion.” (splagne or orgisthes) If he was angry, it was not at the leper. Splagna is the bowels. 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.”
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 purpose the leprosy may have served, it has been accomplished, and the time was come to set it aside.5
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? Were you supposed to touch a leper? No. That would make you unclean. Haggai 2: 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.
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.
Jesus told the former leper to “tell no man and show himself to the priest.” 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. But if that is not the reason, then why does He often tell people not to say anything?
I think there are a couple reasons: 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. 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. 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.
It is hard to believe that that someone who benefits from a miraculous healing by Jesus would turn right around and disobey Him. But this man did just that. Ryrie and Stedman both say that the man didn’t go show himself to the priests.6 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). 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.”
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.
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. 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.
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.
They were to do likewise.
Sending the ex-leper to the priests was as much for the man’s benefit as it was a sign for the priests.
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.
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.
3 Taken from Ray Stedman’s lessons on the gospel of Mark at http://www.pbc.org.
4 A possible explanation for the difference in the Greek manuscripts is this: In Aramaic the word for pity is ethraham. The word for anger is ethraem. Perhaps someone was copying an Aramaic version of Mark’s gospel into Greek. When it was translated into Greek, it was two different words that didn’t sound the same.
5 Ray Stedman at http://www.pbc.org.
6 Ryrie, The Miracles of our Lord, p. 44; Ray Stedman at http://www.pbc.org.