Jesus, Son of God, did many miraculous things while here on earth. These were signs and illustrations that the Kingdom of God had come near and was ‘open’ to people like you and me. Jesus, the One appointed by the Father to rule universally and forever had announced the kingdom, promising multiple blessings to all who repent and believe, who turn from wrongdoing and trust in Him.
His message was accompanied by a phenomenal taste of the wholeness God desires to restore to His creation. We’re told many who had been oppressed by demons were liberated, set free from distressing addictions and mental disorders. And many who had suffered illness or disability were given remarkable new measures of health and strength.
It had begun with Peter’s mother-in-law, healed of a fever. The whole town had arrived at the door shortly afterwards to hear Jesus teach and to seek healing! On other occasions it speaks of large numbers of sick folk and Jesus patiently healing them all. But the disciples noted some of the individual cases and we find extra lessons in the detail.
Like this one, recorded in three of the four Gospels, the instance of a man with leprosy. Mark has it in ch1, Matthew just after the Sermon on the Mount so this was early in Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Luke, being a medical doctor, is careful to note the man was ‘covered’ or ‘full’ of the disease, clearly an advanced case, disfigured, fearful in appearance. There's a fine portrayal of their meeting from the excellent new TV series 'The Chosen' below. I recommend the series!
Now let’s not despise the obvious but take comfort here from the clear compassion of our Lord for each individual and particularly someone in great suffering. This man had a horrible, usually incurable disease which made it impossible for him to associate with family or friends or work normally. He hadn’t felt the touch of another person in years. He doesn’t doubt the Lord’s authority and power to heal but would He want to help someone as far gone and repulsive as he had become?
Jesus leaves the man and us in no doubt. ‘I AM willing!’ He declares with near indignation and then the unthinkable, He reaches out a reassuring hand and touches, perhaps even embraces the person everyone calls ‘unclean’! It appears our Master is no less than passionate in His desire to show kindness to those in need. Let’s be encouraged by that! But as always with Scripture, there’s more.
Let’s note three things in this episode, a picture of sin, a reminder of our need and a demonstration of the Gospel.
Leprosy is a good illustration of sin. It starts small, we might not even recognise or know we have it. But it spreads and gradually ruins everything, our personal, individual wellbeing and our relationships. It separates us from our Maker and brings us under His condemnation. It surfaces in a million little symptoms as we selfishly deceive and abuse ourselves and others, ending up crippled and maimed by guilt and bitterness. We try but before long cannot cover it up. It proves offensive and brings painful consequences. Sin, like leprosy is slowly killing us all.
These Gospel stories are more than historical accounts, they are a reminder of our need. We need healed, not just in our bodies but in our souls.
The Bible teaches that the original creation was faultless. People were created to live and thrive. Sickness and death only came into the picture after human beings decided it was a clever idea to disobey God! Occasionally an individual may be afflicted with a particular illness by God as a discipline for a particular sin but usually it’s more general than that. We all sin in many ways, we all get sick sometimes and we all die without exception.
In heaven and the coming resurrection there will be no more sickness. Nor will there be any sin! God makes all things new through Christ so during His earthly ministry Jesus gave a powerful foretaste, offering both healing from all kinds of physical and mental suffering and forgiveness for sin. In the same chapter the Gospel writer tells of a disabled man made able to walk but not before Jesus also assured him of forgiveness.
Let’s never forget we need more than a cure for physical ailments, we need mended in our souls, cleansed from sin, restored to fellowship with God, ‘born again’ of His Spirit to live and love in holiness, freedom and joy.
Which is what this account of the leper gives us, a demonstration of the Gospel! This is good news, THE Good News, the greatest ever! God has not abandoned His creation, despite our contemptuous disregard for Him. In grace He has given and sent His Son to establish His kingdom and prepare a people to populate it. This Jesus does by coming near and touching us in our contaminated state.
By touching the man with leprosy Jesus risked being barred from the Temple. He Himself became technically 'unclean'. The New Testament spells out how He took the uncleanness of our sin and guilt on Himself on the cross. He was outcast and suffered on our behalf that whoever trusts in Him can be cleansed and start over. By His wounds we are healed. He asks no payment, only that we give God the glory.
So what are we going to do, pretend we’re not sick, take for granted His amazing grace - or follow Him and live our lives in joyful testimony?