Pastor David B. Curtis


Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Mark 1:36-45

Delivered 12/11/2005

Jesus began His ministry by going to the synagogue in Capernaum and teaching the gospel of God. While teaching a demon interrupted Him and He cast the demon out. This caused quite a stir. Once the word got out the whole city went to Peter's house to get something from Jesus:

Mark 1:34 (NASB) And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.

That Sabbath day in Capernaum ends with Jesus in the limelight of popularity. Many people were present, the city gathered around Him, He was the center of attention.

Mark 1:35 (NASB) And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.

After this full day, Jesus went out on the mountainside and there, all alone, he prayed. Last week we focused on verse 35 and the importance of prayer. If you have forgotten everything I said about prayer, please remember this: Prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency. What are you saying to God by your prayer life or lack thereof? Are you declaring to God that you are self-sufficient?

So Jesus is praying. But the crowds came back to the house in the morning looking for Him and, almost certainly pressed by the crowds, the disciples felt that they must bring Jesus to them.

Mark 1:36 (NASB) And Simon and his companions hunted for Him;

Simon and the others went on a serious search for Jesus. They did not know where He had gone. The words "hunted for Him" are from the Greek word katadioko, meaning: "to track and hunt down something." His followers pursue and overtake Him and tell Him that He is, in effect, the object of a "manhunt."

Mark 1:37 (NASB) and they found Him, and said^ to Him, "Everyone is looking for You."

After healing all those people at Peter's house, everybody wanted to see Jesus.

Mark 1:38 (NASB) And He said^ to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for."

His reply probably startled them. He had not come as a healer, He had come to proclaim the glorious gospel of the blessed God. He must, therefore, move on, for this is why He was sent. He had come not simply to make men feel better, but to bring them back into a relationship with God.

Mark 1:39 (NASB) And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.

So Jesus is going throughout Galilee preaching the gospel in their synagogues and casting out demons. What is the purpose of miracles in the Bible? The introduction of a new revelation brought the need of miracles to authenticate the message and the messengers. Miracles were God's testimony that those bringing in the new revelations were indeed His official representatives.

Mark 1:40 (NASB) And a leper came^ to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."

How many of you have ever seen a leper? We are not familiar with leprosy, so we need to do some digging to understand this text. Let me give you a little background information on leprosy in Jesus' day.

In Jesus' day, the Greek word for leprosy was used for a variety of similar diseases, and some forms were contagious. Its symptoms ranged from white patches on the skin to running sores to the loss of the fingers and toes. The disease deadens nerve endings, so a leper could cut or burn himself without even realizing it.

William Barclay describes what a leper looks like:

The whole appearance of the face is changed, till the man loses his human appearance and looks, as the ancients said, "like a lion or a satyr [say-ter]." The nodules grow larger and larger. They ulcerate. Become staring. The voice becomes hoarse, and the breath wheezes because of the ulceration of the vocal chords. The hands and the feet always ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of the disease is nine years, and it ends in mental decay, coma, and ultimately death. The sufferer becomes utterly repulsive - both to himself and to others.

Leprosy, like AIDS today, was a terrifying disease, because there was no known cure. Can you imagine for a moment what it would be like if you were told that you had an incurable disease. How do you think you might respond? Fear, anger, or depression might be a response. What would you want most at that time? If you are at all like me, you would want to be around the love and support of family and friends. When I was diagnosed with Gillian Barre syndrome, I was greatly encouraged by Christian friends and family. Their support meant so much to me. Well, these lepers not only had a terminal disease, they were social and religious outcasts because of the disease. For the Israelites, leprosy rendered its victims ceremonially unclean - that is, unfit to worship God.:

Leviticus 13:3 (NASB) "And the priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean.
Leviticus 13:45-46 (NASB) "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, 'Unclean! Unclean!' 46 "He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

If a person contracted the contagious type, a priest declared him a leper and banished him from his home and city. He had to cry, "Unclean" when other people came near. Anyone who came in contact with a leper was also considered unclean. Lepers were not permitted to travel on the roadway, nor could they have any social contact with "clean" people. Therefore, lepers were isolated from the rest of the community so that the members of the community could maintain their status as worshipers. The leper was sent to live in a community with other lepers until he died. Lepers were social outcasts.

So, this man not only had a terminal disease, but he had been separated from his family and friends. He was ceremonially unclean, he was unfit to worship God. He was dying, and he had no comfort from family or friends or his church. He was truly hurting. Some of you know that the pain of rejection alone can be devastating. He was dying and rejected.

Leprosy serves as a biblical illustration of sin. It shows us how God views sin. You see, leprosy was the most graphic illustration that there was of sin. Sin defiles the whole body. Sin is ugly and loathsome. It is incurable. It contaminates the entire body, and it brings about eventual death.

The nation of Israel was pictured as defiled with leprosy:

Isaiah 1:4-6 (NASB) Alas, sinful nation, People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers, Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, They have despised the Holy One of Israel, They have turned away from Him. 5 Where will you be stricken again, As you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick, And the whole heart is faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head There is nothing sound in it, Only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, Not pressed out or bandaged, Nor softened with oil.

Leviticus 14 describes the ceremony the healed leper went through to be declared clean:

Leviticus 14:5 (NASB) "The priest shall also give orders to slay the one bird in an earthenware vessel over running water.

The word "running" is from the Hebrew word chay, which means: "living water."

The Rabbis taught - quite Scripturally, that "living water" was the only type of water that could be used to cleanse three specific types of individuals from ceremonial defilement, one of these being the leper (Lev 14:5-7), but, even so, this was only on the day of their cleansing when the leprosy had already been declared to have left.

John 7:37-39 (NASB) Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'" 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This "living water": which Jesus would give to His disciples which would flow out from them would do the very same thing in principle as natural "living water" did for the ceremonially unclean, in this instance being able to cleanse those people in the world who lived in uncleanness and death and who needed God's presence in their lives.

Our sin, like leprosy, has separated us from God:

Isaiah 59:2 (NASB) But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.

So in a spiritual sense, we are all born like these lepers. We are born with a terminal spiritual disease that separates us from God.

The cleansing of the leper was a type of the cleansing that was to come after the cross - that the person who was unacceptable to God because of their sin would be cleansed and, through that application of the work of the cross, would be accepted by God into the community of those who God regards as His people, would receive the promised inheritance in Christ, and would begin to experience the presence of God moving in their lives as they never had done before.

Mark 1:40 (NASB) And a leper came^ to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."

The opening words are really striking, "...a leper came^ to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him" We find others coming to Christ, such as the rich young ruler, and so we may consider this to be commonplace. But lepers in the first century did not simply walk up to someone else, especially when a crowd was around.

Once a man or woman was deemed leprous, he was totally abandoned by society. He had to keep his distance from others: six feet if there was no prevailing wind and over 100 feet if the wind was blowing. He also had to warn anyone in the vicinity that a leper was near by, crying out, "Unclean, unclean!" Upon hearing such a cry, the "normal" people of society would retreat to their homes or run away from the presence of the leper. No one dared to touch a leper either, for to do so would make a person ceremonially unclean. Anything the leper touched became unclean.

So the man that came to Christ and bowed before Him broke the normal codes of society. We can only imagine that this man had watched from a distance and listened to the words of Christ. He had probably witnessed the compassion of Christ toward others. And so in a moment of abandon, he went into the crowd and fell before Christ. Such abandon shows the heart of a person that truly knows that Christ alone can deliver him from the burden of his soul.

The ancients considered leprosy to be the judgment of God on a person. Miriam suddenly contracts leprosy as a judgment upon her sin in opposing Moses (Numbers 12) or perhaps Gehazi for trying to obtain material wealth for himself (2 Kings 5:19-27) or even Uzziah who tried to offer incense in similar fashion to the priest (2 Kings 5:5, 2 Chr 26:16-21). In these cases it's certain that the leprosy was a demonstration of the judgment of God against an individual's sin. But as Christ taught concerning the blind man (John 9), illnesses and afflictions were not necessarily signs of judgment, but part of human existence for which God shows forth His compassion and grace.

Leprosy has been eliminated in many regions, but still exists in pockets around the globe. The disease has been given a new name to tone down the stigma of leprosy. In 1871-1873 G. A. Hansen discovered an organism that caused leprosy, so the name was changed to "Hansen's disease," for the mycobacterium leprae that he found! There is considerable debate in scholarly circles on whether or not every case of leprosy found in the Bible is Hansen's disease, but no doubt exists in the case of the leper of our text since Palestine's first century had ample cases of Hansen's disease. Though there are many different variations of leprosy, at its basic root the mycobacterium leprae anesthetizes the leper's body so that he has no sensations to protect him from self-inflicted destruction. Cases are documented of leper's picking up objects from fires, walking across splintered glass, gripping shovel handles with protruding nails and working all day in that position without realizing the harm being done to the body. Missionary doctor, Paul Brand, whose work with lepers is legendary, explained it like this: "Hansen's disease" "only numbs the extremities. The destruction follows solely because the warning system of pain is gone." He goes on to explain that the routine of life takes its toll upon lepers by cuts, burns, bruises, sprains, broken bones, all without any consciousness by the leper that it has happened. Consequently, he continues with open, festering wounds, or limps on twisted legs, and gradually becomes disfigured and repulsive to others.

So, approaching Jesus Christ was a man from whom eyes would have turned due to the repulsive nature of this grotesque figure limping to Christ. The crowd's sense of smell would have recoiled at the odor of rotting flesh. Their ears would hear the distinctly raspy voice calling out, "Unclean, unclean!" Most likely anyone who was around Jesus would have run away, leaving Christ alone with this leper.

Notice the lepers plea: He falls on his knees in an act of worship and says, "If You are willing, You can make me clean." - There is the suggestion in the language that he repeated this plea, perhaps doing so with every struggling step toward Christ. He made no demand upon Jesus. He did not say, "You must heal me of my infirmity!" He dared not presume upon the divine will in thinking that Christ was obligated to assist him. He attached a condition to his plea: "if You are willing." The fact that the Lord had healed others did not mean that He would choose to heal the leper. It was certainly not that the leper doubted the power of Christ to heal him for he asserted, "You can make me clean."

That little "if" is a much needed relief to the arrogance in our day. Many think that the Lord owes them something, so they make demands upon Him as though there is an obligation on the part of God to satisfy the whims of humanity. And when the Lord does not do what they want, they become angry with Him. Some branches of Christianity even teach people to be demanding of God in areas of healing or finances. The result is that many are angry with God when He does not answer their demand. People get angry because they presume that God owes them what they desire, because we have an exaggerated view of ourselves and a low view of God.

The leper asserts, "You can make me clean." He believed that Christ had the power to make him whole. Centuries earlier, King Jehoram reacted to Naaman the Syrian that came to him for healing, as Naaman delivered a note from his master requesting that the king of Israel heal his servant. Jehoram tore his clothes and replied:

2 Kings 5:7 (NASB) And it came about when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me."

Just as Jehoram could not heal the man, neither could anyone else. But the leper believed that Christ could heal him, he just did not know if He would.

Mark 1:41 (NASB) And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said^ to him, "I am willing; be cleansed."

There is a textual variant here that I just want to make you aware of. Some manuscripts have "moved with anger" instead of "moved with compassion." If He was angry, it was not at the leper. The Greek word here for "compassion" is splagchnizomai, which means: "the bowels." The verb means to "move the bowels." And it came to mean "to move with compassion."

"He stretched out His hand and touched him." The Greek word used here for "touched" is haptomai, which means much more than a brushing of the arm or a casual contact that could have taken place. As Vines notes, the word is more rightly conveyed by the verb "to fasten to" and implies a firm contact is being made between two objects. Jesus was probably the first non-leper to have touched him since he had contacted the disease.

What happens when something holy touches something unclean? The holy becomes contaminated.

Haggai 2:11-13 (NASB) "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Ask now the priests for a ruling: 12 'If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?'" And the priests answered and said, "No." 13 Then Haggai said, "If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?" And the priests answered and said, "It will become unclean."

What Haggai is saying is that the "holy" is defiled by unclean, but the unclean is not made holy by touching the holy, unless it is "The Holy One" who does the touching.

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, He was making another claim to deity.

You cannot know the full impact of what this meant to a Jew without growing up in a Jewish culture. To touch a leper meant that you could no longer enter into the temple to worship.

Jesus didn't have to touch him. Jesus could have healed this man without touching him. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of Him healing a man's son from a distance of 18 miles. He could have simply said the words and this man's leprosy would have vanished. But instead, He reached out and He touched him.

There's something of the picture of the Incarnation in this scene. He that is totally pure and holy, who knows nothing of sin, left the glory of heaven to become one of us ­ touching the foulness of humanity, but not becoming Himself defiled. Instead, the unclean that He touches become clean by His compassionate work.

If we are going to change our world for Christ, we need to be incarnational. We need to reach out and touch someone with the love of Jesus.

Notice what Jesus says to the leper, "I am willing" - When Jesus says, "I am willing," what does He mean? Does He means that He is willing to heal the leper that He is talking to? Or does He mean that He is willing to heal all disease? That may sound like a stupid question to you, but I have heard this verse used by those of the health/wealth gospel persuasion to teach that it is Christ's will that everyone be healthy, He wills no one to be sick. That is a serious case of eisegesis. The word eisegesis means to read into a text something that isn't there. Exegesis means to explain what Scripture says. To exegete Scripture is to get out of the words the meaning that is there, no more and no less.

The Scriptures are very clear that sometimes God wills us to be sick. 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.

No sweeter words were ever heard by mortal ear than those of Christ to the hopeless leper, "I am willing; be cleansed," unless, of course, it is the similar words that you've heard in your own heart when Christ met your plea for mercy.

Mark 1:40 (NASB) And a leper came^ to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, "If You are willing, You can make me clean."

Please notice carefully that the leper does not state, "If you are willing, You can heal me." That would certainly be true, but he felt more than the weight of the physical. Leprosy separated a man from the worship of God in Israel. Lepers were not welcome to the Temple or for times of sacrifice and prayer. So this man viewed his leprosy as more than a physical need. It was a spiritual need as well, a need for cleansing and restoration to wholeness so that he might be part of the covenant community.

Christ's words brought him that relief, "I am willing; be cleansed." The command displayed the ultimate authority of Christ to declare a man whole. "Be cleansed" meant no more separation from God's people, no more absence from the worship of the Lord.

Cleansing the leper was the same as performing a restoration of the individual into both Israelite society (the community of the people of God) and into the presence of God itself. Therefore, there is a great degree of symbolism here, which would have been fully realized after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel to the nations of the world.

The word that Mark uses here for "clean" is katharizo, it is the same word that John later uses of us as believers in Christ:

1 John 1:7 (NASB) but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:9 (NASB) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

That is precisely what the gospel of Christ speaks to our own spiritual need. Christ can declare us cleansed, because He has provided all that is necessary to cleanse us.

The leper bore in his body the leprae bacteria; Christ took it away. The sinner bears enmity with God in his soul; Christ bore the enmity in His own body on the cross and took it away. That which separates you from God, Christ Himself bore in the radical act of atonement at Calvary, so that all that come to Him, He can declare, "Be cleansed!"

Mark 1:42 (NASB) And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

This was not a gradual healing process in which there was a slow remission of the disease. It was immediate and sudden. Before the eyes of this man whose skin had thickened, ulcerated, and scaled, he suddenly became a whole man. Those hands that were twisted and distorted by multiple accidents caused by numbness were suddenly made whole. Feeling returned to his hands and feet. He could stand erect. He could feel the wonderful sensations of movement. He could now be touched and touch others. Christ willed, commanded, and accomplished it all! Think about what actually happened here. Think of how this leper felt. What incredible power!

The leper provides us a close parallel to the work of Christ in our own hearts. For us to receive the cleansing, we, like the leper, must recognize our need. We must believe that only Christ can cleanse us. And when we abandon all human effort and trust only and completely in Christ, we also are immediately made clean. Totally clean. Absolutely righteous.

Mark 1:43-44 (NASB) 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, for a testimony to them."

Jesus' command that he tell no one is possibly evidence that the crowds were not now present or, at least, were not very close by. After all, if a leper came running toward you in first century Israel, one's natural reaction would probably have been to run the other way!

"Show yourself to the priest" - Under the Mosaic law, there was a very specific ritual that was prescribed in the Old Testament Scriptures which dealt with what you do when a man is healed of leprosy:

Leviticus 14:1-4 (NASB) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest, 3 and the priest shall go out to the outside of the camp. Thus the priest shall look, and if the infection of leprosy has been healed in the leper, 4 then the priest shall give orders to take two live clean birds and cedar wood and a scarlet string and hyssop for the one who is to be cleansed.

The passage goes on to relate very specific rituals through which a man was required to go in order to be brought back into the worship of the temple.

This formula had not been utilized for over a thousand years. The last recorded instance of a Jewish person being healed of leprosy had been that of Miriam, sister to Moses.

"For a testimony to them" - Can you imagine the priests being confronted by this man? They have to go in and dust off the scroll of Leviticus, which deals with the Law of the Leper. They remember studying this passage in rabbinical school, but they haven't had any need to refer to it since graduation. And so, they must brush up on the prescribed rituals.

Our Lord intended, clearly, that this would be for them a manifestation of a sign of the Messiah. Everyone in Israel, and especially the priests, knew that leprosy was always a symbol of the evil and sin of man, and that God used it as judgment, at times, in order to bring out in vivid, visible form what evil and sin is like in us. Now here was One who had power to cleanse the leper. Isaiah had predicted that when Messiah came, he would do certain physical miracles. The eyes of the blind would be opened, the lame would leap like the heart, the tongue of the dumb would sing, and lepers would be cleansed and healed. Now here is one of the signs of the Messiah, which our Lord intended the priests should see as a witness to them of who He was.

Mark 1:45 (NASB) But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news about, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

What is the Leper's response to the cleansing? Is it hard for you to believe that someone who benefits from a miraculous healing by Jesus would turn right around and disobey Him? But this man did just that. And what about you? God has through Jesus Christ paid our sin debt, healed us of an incurable terminal disease, and we go on with our lives at times as if He didn't exist. We have been cured of the incurable disease of sin and given eternal life and fellowship with the eternal God of the universe. How grateful are you for that? Does your gratitude show by your obedience?

If we, as a people, are going to really make a difference in the lives of others; if we are going to be the dynamic, aggressive, Christ honoring church that makes a difference, we must actively seek out ways to touch the lives of others.

I bet if we looked hard enough, we'd find a few lepers in our sphere of influence that need a loving touch.

As we study the gospel of Mark and learn about Jesus, I hope that we will turn that knowledge into action and seek to live as He did.

1 John 2:6 (NASB) the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

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