Leprosy isn’t a common disease any more but it is mentioned fairly often in the Bible. 40 times. Josephus and others referred to lepers as no different from a corpse or as “the living dead.” These guys were as good as dead. In the Old Testament God gave instructions about how to deal with it.
Lev 13:45 stated strict rules for Lepers…
45 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.
Leprosy was awful. It’s an object lesson to the seriousness of sin. It infects the whole body. Its incurable by man. It can infect others. It leads to death.
So we may not be lepers physically but we are a sinners and so we need to pay attention to this story. We will see what’s needed, given, demanded, and returned.
So, what’s needed?
Cleansing is Needed
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
The man is unclean. He’s supposed to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, 150 feet away from people if the wind is blowing.
But the only way he’s going to be cleansed is to get near to Jesus. So he takes a risk. He takes a risk of being rejected. The Leper went against culture, went against the law even, to come to Jesus. He’ll do anything to become clean.
Will we? Will we risk it all for Jesus?
The man comes with humility, on his knees. He begs Jesus to cleanse him. He knows He can.
This how we should approach Jesus for our spiritual needs. If only every time we sinned a leprous spot literally grew on us. Then we would take sin seriously wouldn’t we?
Can you imagine? If every time we sinned a leprous spot grew on us and it stayed there until God healed us? If that’s how it worked I think we would fall to our knees more often.
See we have a sin problem that’s even worse than leprosy but because we don’t always realize it’s there we often ignore it. But when God brings it to our attention we should fall on our knees begging God to cleanse us.
That’s what the leper does. He knows Jesus is capable of healing. He’s seen him do it before. But he isn’t sure if Jesus wants to.
That’s just like us isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easier to believe in God’s power than it is his mercy. We know he’s capable of forgiving us, we know he’s powerful, we just can’t imagine that he would want to.
But he does.
Compassion is Given
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
The newest NIV says “Jesus was indignant” or “angry.” This is because the oldest Greek manuscripts read this way. But other manuscripts read “Jesus was filled with compassion” which makes more sense and is easier to understand.
The older reading of “Jesus was indignant” is probably the correct one but I also think there is a connection with the versions that read “Jesus was filled with compassion”.
I think seeing the leper suffering the way he was made Jesus angry, so angry it moved him to compassion.
Have you ever seen something awful, maybe in person or even on TV and it made you angry? Homeless people. Starving children. Dictators killing their own people. Seeing sin can make us angry but it’s an anger that should lead to compassion. Jesus became angry but his anger caused him to do something.
Jesus often showed compassion. He ate with sinners and tax collectors. He saved a bride and a groom from embarrassment when he turned the water into wine. He spent time with the outcasts, the poor. He washed his disciple’s feet. He healed lots of people.
In the Bible we don’t see any instances of people coming to Jesus with genuine faith being turned away. Not everyone is healed physically in this life of course. But spiritually speaking we’re told in John 6…
37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
Did this Leper have faith that led to salvation? It doesn’t seem like it. He had faith Jesus could heal but that seems to be all because in the very next verse, verse 43, we see Jesus driving him away.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
The word for “sent him away” literally means “drove him out.” This is the type of language Jesus often used of the demons. Why would he use this rough language with him? Jesus probably knew the man would disobey.
Obedience is Demanded
After cleansing the man Jesus demanded something of him. He demanded obedience in two areas. Go to the priest and don’t tell anyone.
The word for “Strong warning” is literally “to snort with anger” like an impatient horse. It means to “growl or roar at.” In other words, Jesus warned him in no uncertain terms.
We aren’t told exactly why Jesus commanded the man not to talk with anyone but does that really matter? We’re given a hint at why he wanted him to be quiet in the following verses. Jesus wanted to do more healing in the town. Jesus had good reasons for asking what he did.
And the Leper’s told to go to the priest and offer a sacrifice. Lev 14:1-7 required the man offer two clean birds. He would likely have traveled to Jerusalem to do this. One bird was to be killed and its blood sprinkled on the man by the priest seven times. Then he was pronounced clean. Washed clean with blood.
That’s the only way to get rid of sin. Only the blood of Jesus.
Whether or not the leper went to the priest and offered the sacrifice, we don’t know, but it clearly would’ve been for his own good.
But often we think we know better than our Creator don’t we? Yet,
John Piper says in his book What Jesus Demands from the World…
“The kind of obedience that glorifies God is free and joyful, not constrained and cowering. Even when the cost is supreme, the joy is triumphant, because the cause of Jesus cannot fail”
Jesus demands are not harsh, but loving. They are meant for our good. Jesus demanded obedience of this leper but he meant it for good.
But what does the leper do? What does the leper return to Jesus? Does he return obedience?
Disobedience is Returned
45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
What a contrast to the man kneeling down begging Jesus to heal him. Just a few minutes ago he was desperate, kneeling at Jesus’ feet not sure if Jesus will heal him.
Now he’s arrogant. He thinks he knows better than God. He thinks he knows better than the man who could do what no other man could do. He doesn’t seem to have any loyalty to Jesus for his compassion.
Could there be any greater betrayal than to disobey a direct command of Jesus immediately after being healed?
But lest we be too hard on him we need to remember that we do the same thing. Even though we’ve been forgiven, don’t we sometimes withhold forgiveness from others? Even though the Bible is clear about certain types of sin, don’t we sometimes rationalize away its application to us?
Yes, we do. And our disobedience has consequences, consequences that reach beyond ourselves.
When the leper went about spreading the news Jesus had to leave town. Were some people deprived of healing? Of hearing the gospel? Probably.
See, our actions have real consequences. On one hand Jesus, can’t be thwarted but on the other hand our lack of obedience has serious consequences.
Thankfully, this story doesn’t end with Jesus being thwarted by an ungrateful, disobedient sinner. We’re told…
Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
The people still came. The Father still drew people to his Son. And they came. Praise the Lord. Nothing can ruin the plans of God.
In fact, that’s why you are here. The Father has plans for you. He’s drawn you to His son. He’s drawn you, a leprous sinner, in need of cleansing to your knees begging to be made new. And if you’ve never done that, do it now. Do it today. He’ll forgive you. Jesus is compassionate.
And he won’t abandon you. He’ll continue to cleanse you. He’ll make you clean and continue to make you clean. You’re a work in progress. The more Jesus cleans us the more obedient we become.
He’ll ask you to do things you may not want to do, but they’re for your good. Trust him.
Ironically, Jesus no longer tells us to be quiet. He told the leper to be silent but no longer. He tells us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. This is hard but it’s our calling. Let’s be obedient to our Savior.