“And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. 43 And he straightly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; 44 And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. 45 But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.” (Mark 1:40-45)
There was no disease more dreaded in the ancient world than that of leprosy. When Jesus sent out the Twelve he commanded them, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers.” (Matt. 18:8)
The fate of the leper was treacherous. From the description in Leviticus 13 it is clear that in New Testament times the term leprosy was also used to include psoriasis, a disease which covers the body with white scales. This disease gave rise to the expression, “Whiter than snow.”
When a person was diagnosed with leprosy, they were banished from society. The leper had to go and dwell alone outside the community. Clothes had to be torn so that people from a distance could see the leper coming. The head was to be left bare, but the upper lip had to be covered. As the leper walked, he was to give a loud vocal warning of his polluted presence by crying, “Unclean! Unclean!”
If ever a leper was cured, there was a complicated religious ceremony of restoration which is described in Leviticus 14. If everything was in order, the priest would then touch the leper on the tip of the right ear, the right thumb, and the right big toe with blood and oil. A certificate of cleanliness was then given.
The man who came to Jesus did not have a certificate of cleanliness. He was still a leper, unwanted and unloved by society. He was an individual forced by the laws of the day to cry out in the presence of others, “I am unclean! I am unclean!” The man did as the Law dictated, until he came into the presence of Jesus.
In the presence of Christ, the Bible says that the leper called out to Him. Instead of crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” There were other words. With strong emotion and a voice filled with pain the distraught man with the deadly disease began to weep and sob and say in effect, “Jesus, have mercy on me! Jesus, help me! You who have helped others, help me!”
Not only did the leper cry out from the depths of his soul for help, but he knelt down in a act of worship. He went low on the ground with his face down, such was the nature of his need and his respect for Jesus. Then, the leper began to present his strongest point. “Lord, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” The words were true, but where did the leper get such faith?
Perhaps he had heard of the miracles that Jesus had already performed. Perhaps he had seen how the Lord had healed the blind, restored health to the sick, and cast out demons. Whatever the origin of his faith, the words of the leper touched the soul of the Savior for Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand and touched the leper.
The touch of Christ was the touch of majestic mercy.
The touch of Christ was the touch of kindness.
The touch of Christ was the touch of lingering love.
Without doubt no one had touched this man for a long, long time. He was unclean, and no one wanted to risk becoming ceremonially unclean according to the Levitical Laws by giving even a gentle hug. Far better to stay away from the living dead.
But Jesus touched the leper because to Him the man was not unclean. The leper was merely a soul in the depths of despair who needed someone to care. We all need someone to care. One day a student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. He expected the answer to be a clay pot, or perhaps a fish hook, or a grinding stone. Her answer was, “a healed femur.”
Margaret Mead explained that no healed femurs are found where the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cared. Someone had to set the leg. Someone had to do an injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization. The evidence of compassion is taking the time to touch someone who is in pain.
Not only did Jesus touch the leper, but He spoke to the leper according to his words of faith. “If thou wilt Lord…,” said the leper. Jesus said, “I will.” “You can make me clean, Lord,” cried the defiled. “Be thou clean,” responded the Divine Physician.
As soon as Jesus spoke, the leprosy departed, and the leper was cleansed. The man arose from the dust. He looked at his hands. He studied his arms. It was true. The leprosy was gone. He was cleansed. With joy unspeakable the man hardly heard the command of Christ to keep the Law.
The Lord wanted him to go to the priest and get an official certificate of cleansing for Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it. But the former leper could not contain himself.
Forgetting everything that he was instructed to do, he published what Christ had done in his life. or for that, the leper might be easily forgiven having some excessive zeal. By way of application, the Bible teaches that there is a spiritual leprosy that all men are afflicted with and that is the leprosy of sin. Like physical leprosy, spiritual leprosy, or sin, is loathsome and hideous in the sight of God.
Sin is not so ugly to the average person. Evil can be very attractive, if the truth were told. In 1982, Johanna Michaelson published her book, “The Beauty of Evil.” Christian author Eugene Peterson admits, “Every temptation that comes to me is packaged as a good.” (Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 2.)
Yet, so hideous is sin in its essence that a divine judgment has been pronounced upon this plague of all plagues. The Bible says that, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” One immediate result of Divine judgment is separation from the society of heaven. Individuals are separated from all that is good and holy.
But wait. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. The God of judgment is also the God of mercy. There is good news for we read that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
Any person who discovers the depths of human depravity in their own life can go to the Saviour and say like the leper of old, “Jesus, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”
“I know a soul that is steep in sin,
That no man’s art can cure;
But I know a Name,
a Name, a Name
That can make that soul all pure.”
It is unknown how the Lord removes the spiritual defilement of the soul. It is a miracle full of mystery. It is a work of grace far greater than restoring physical health to the flesh of any leper. Grace it is ours for the asking, and ours for the receiving.
Many years ago James Nicholson needed to be healed from the deadly disease of sin. He wanted to be touched by Christ. One day he began to plead:
I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever
to live in my soul;
Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
Whiter than snow,
yes, whiter than snow;
Now wash me
and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Some who have known the healing power of Christ for salvation need to be touched again for sanctification. The mighty power of sin has been broken, but moral pollution remains in the life due to indwelling sin. Unholy appetites and passions are succumbed to, and the heart is robbed of peace with God. There is the loss of self-esteem, and tremendous secret shame. There is the need for sanctification. What is to be done? The answer is found in our text.
Go to Christ and beseech Him yet again and say,
“Lord Jesus, for this I most humbly entreat,
I wait, blessed Lord, at Thy crucified feet;
By faith, for my cleansing,
I see Thy blood flow—
Now wash me,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
Whiter than snow,
Yes, whiter than snow;
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
I do not know why God has allowed sin to come into the world, and death by sin.
I do not know why there are terrible diseases such as leprosy, cancer, and AIDES.
I do not know why saints must struggle to be holy and good.
But I do know that the wise thing to do is to find the Lord and plead with Him afresh to manifest His mighty power, believing that He will do so with compassion. Only then can the heart sing,
“He touched me!
O, He touched.
And now the joy
that floods my soul.
and now I know,
Jesus touched me and made me whole.”
If you are physically ill, come to Christ. Take advantage of prayer for the sick.
If you are spiritually afflicted and need a Savior from some moral failure, come to Christ.
If you are in bondage to sin, come to Christ.
He is compassionate, and He will move to heal those who have faith.
If we cry, “Lord, thou canst make me clean,” the response shall still be heard, “I will. Be thou clean.”