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Cleansing the Leper

I. OBSERVATION

A. Passage Selected: Mark 1:40-45

Also in Matt 8:1-4

B. Progression Stated: Logical

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

C. Presentation Summarized:

One person outlined this as: A Bold Request, A Healing Caress, A Warning Transgressed

1. Context
a. Cultural background

Leprosy was especially bad because:

  • it was repulsive to all who saw the person
  • it was incurable by human means
  • it was isolating - lepers were confined outside the city limits - many times to the city dump - probably because they could find food and other things there.
  • it would cause you to become unclean ceremonially if you touched a leper (even if you didn’t catch the disease).
  • it was the physical counterpart to the spiritual problem of sin. It was the model disease for sin. That is why when a leper is healed it is called a cleansing instead of a healing.
  • When a leper was healed he was to go to the priest and be pronounced clean before reentering society.
  • Not since Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5: had someone been healed of 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. 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)

    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.

    b. The touch of the Lord (41-42)

    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.

    3. Consequences of the miracle 1:43-45
    a. Obedience desired (43-44)

    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.

    b. Disobedience demonstrated (45)

    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.

    II. INTERPRETATION

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

    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.

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

    They were to do likewise.

    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. We make terrible mistakes, commit terrible sins, etc. It is our natural inclination and the easiest to move toward contempt of the down and outers (like the Pharisees did). 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. 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. 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 …”
  • Sometimes it is easier to believe in God’s power more than His mercy. Sometimes we don’t believe he wants to heal us. If I can make a generalization: Charismatics go too far in one direction (claiming that God always wants to heal us) and Cessationists go too far in the other direction (often not really believing that God wants to heal us.)
  • 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.

    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.

Related Topics: Miracles