A LEPER HEALED
As Jesus embarked on His “Galilean tour,” which possibly lasted for several weeks, His main focus was on preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (1:14-15). He did heal those who came to Him, as we read in these following verses, but that was not His primary goal. Those healings and the casting out of demons were miracles designed for a particular purpose. Sure, Jesus had compassion on the suffering and in mercy delivered many from that, but ultimately these miracles were to “dramatically confirm His message.” They were to confirm that He is deity; He is the long-awaited prophesied Messiah!
There are two main perspectives that I will focus on: The man with leprosy and that of Jesus at his approach. AND, there are two amazing facts regarding this incident that I want to expose: First, that the man would approach Jesus against custom and law, and that Jesus would touch the unclean man!
Ready? I am, so let’s dive in!
40 And a man with [a]leprosy *came to [b]Jesus, imploring Him and kneeling down, and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 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.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”
FOCUS ONE: A man with leprosy comes to Jesus
As you can imagine, this man was an outcast. Leprosy was a physically, mentally, and socially destructive disease. * “The word leprosy was used in biblical times to designate a wide variety of serious skin diseases. It was not limited to what we know as leprosy, or, to use the preferable medical term, Hansen’s disease. Whatever variety of skin disorder the man has, it caused him much suffering. The suffering was social as well as physical. The law required that the person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone, he must live outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46).”
How can we genuinely fathom this man’s sense of despair and hopelessness? Separated from his family, synagogue, and community, how could we possibly be able to comprehend the sense of community disgust and disdain that this man would have to bear while he is unclean?
BUT, despite the disease and its apparent hopelessness, this man, unclean and ostracized, exercises one of the most incredible displays of humility and faith that we witness in our New Testament! Whether or not this took place inside the synagogue or outside of it, this man displayed great courage in walking into the crowds that would be around Jesus. “He came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him” (v. 40).
In his words to Christ, we hear no sense of doubt or feel an utter weight of hopelessness. Instead, we hear in his words faith, hope, and confidence in this man they call Jesus!
How fantastic are the first words out of his mouth: “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This man most likely is referring to his physical deliverance from the disease. He has heard, possibly witnessed (from a distance) the miracles Christ performed on others. Based on the testimonies he heard and the things he witnessed for himself, he approaches Christ with great faith that He can do the same for him. Leviticus 13 deals with the various laws of leprosy and its cleansing.
With humility and reverence (falling on his knees), he approaches Jesus. Fear of man laid aside, presumption absent, doubts dismantled. And what does he hear in reply: “I am willing!”
Only twice does the OT record that God cleansed a leper (Miriam in Numbers 12:10-15; and Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-4)! But Jesus, a man (the God-man), heals him! The Rabbis regarded leprosy as “humanly incurable.”
This brings me to what I believe is our first amazing fact to consider: That this man, in the position he is in, would approach Jesus against their customs and the commands outlined in the Mosaic law. With everything against him, when everyone else would tell him that he has no hope, he forsakes all and “looks unto Jesus,” and lives!
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out with His hand and touched him, and *said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. 43 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.”
FOCUS TWO: Jesus is moved with compassion
I love reading those words: “moved with compassion.” Our Lord is not a benign being, far removed from us, uncaring, unloving, or unwilling to heal. He is Emmanuel, God in the flesh, and as such, He is not only our shepherd; He is our God who sees us (El Roi). He is our provider, our healer, and as such, He is all-sufficient (EL Shaddai)! So be encouraged, dear Christian, that our God is compassionate, “and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness” (Psalm 103:8).
Here we have a picture of how loving and caring He is. Jesus, moved by compassion because of the pain and anguish socially, physically, and mentally that this man has been going through for some time, stretches out His hand and touches the leprous man.
This is so counter-cultural to His day that it makes it our amazing fact #2: That He would touch the man against the custom and law of the day. His touch revealed that Rabbinic regulations regarding ritual defilement did not bind him. He, according to the law (He instituted), would be unclean!
“I am willing; be cleansed.” This statement and His touch brought healing to this diseased man: perfect, instantaneous, and highly observable cleansing!
So now this man is healed, and Jesus gives Him a stern warning and a command.
- Jesus warns Him to say nothing about it to anyone (how could he do this, everyone would know)?
- He was told to go to the priest (Leviticus 13), offer the required sacrifice, and be declared clean by the priest. He used very forceful words that emphasized the man’s need for prompt obedience to His instructions.
I can sympathize with this man regarding proclaiming the amazing healing he just received to anyone who would listen. How couldn’t he? How couldn’t you and I? His body is now clean from this disease. After being declared clean by the priest, he can go back to his family, enter the synagogue and worship, and be a part of community life again. Besides that elation within his soul, all the people in that community knew he had leprosy; many probably ostracized him for it! But now, he stands before them differently, totally clean, absolutely changed!
In Chapter 11 (11:27-28), we read that the Sanhedrin asked Christ two questions: 1) What was the nature of His authority, His credentials, and 2) Who authorized Him to do these things? These questions indicate that Jesus had not yet openly stated that He is the Messiah. This appears to be a BIG part of Mark’s writing (secrecy motif)! The closest that Mark comes to this “unveiling” before chapter 11 is found in 9:27-30. But here it is Peter who states He is the Christ, and Jesus tells him to “tell no one.”
Nonetheless, He was commanded by Jesus to say nothing to anyone. He disobeyed Him, and we read about the repercussions of that disobedience.
45 But he went out and began to proclaim it [c]freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that [d]Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but [e]stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.”
I am not positive of this, but the command could have been temporary until the priest declared clean. But still, the man doesn’t seem to go to the priest, and I am not sure he ever did! So, why the “secrecy?” I think Jesus wanted to avoid misunderstandings that precipitate a premature and erroneous response to Him. There would be a time and place for that disclosure by HIM, and that time was not yet at hand.
The man’s disobedience hinders Christ to the extent that He could no longer publicly enter a city. He had to stay out in unpopulated areas. But even though He had to withdraw to such places, the people came to Him from everywhere. He may now be limited geographically, but not concerning preaching, teaching, and healing those who came to Him!
What an incredible thought to end this study with! Jesus has been glorified; His atoning work completed! Christ is not limited in His ability or willingness to reach us where we are. He is omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipotent (all-powerful)! Oh, and don’t forget compassionate!
*The Expositors Bible Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke, pg. 630