This is another one of those passages that seems straight forward but from which we can still glean some kernels of knowledge and even wisdom. Remember, in the passage before this we saw Jesus in Capernaum in Peter’s house. There he healed Peter’s mother-in-law from a debilitating fever. Now we find him traveling the area healing and preaching. We are actually looking at two passages that Biblical scholars believe follow each other chronologically. You can read Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts by going to biblegateway.com and searching for Matthew 4:23-25 & 8:2-4 and Mark 1:35-45 Let’s read:
At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Luke 4:42-44)
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:12-16)
I love how this passage starts out and I personally could learn from it. “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place,” (Luke 4:42). At the end of our reading it says, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed,” (Luke 5:16). Even Jesus needed to spend sometime praying to the Father and if Jesus needed to do it, how much more do we as mere humans need it? Yet, I find that my personal time with God all to often gets pushed aside for something else that may seem more important. In reality though, spending time praying and communing with God is vital. If Jesus needed to do it then we desperately need to do it.
Jesus wasn’t going to get too much privacy however. The people were on his trail, bringing him their sick and demon-posessed (Matthew 4:24). They wanted him to stay put but Jesus needed to spread the good news. In fact Jesus says, “this is why I was sent,” (Luke 4:43). The verb “was sent” means “commissioned for this purpose.” It’s actually the same word we get the word apostle from. So an apostle is one commissioned for a purpose. Matthew’s version shows people coming as far away as Judea to Galilee to see Jesus (Matthew 4:25). This provides a dilemma because Matthew and Mark both say that Jesus traveled through Galilee while Luke says was in Judea. I provided a map so that you could see the physical problem this causes. I don’t have an answer for this problem. Some scholars say that when Luke says Judea that he really means the whole area of Israel. I don’t think this is the case because most commentaries I read completely skip over this difference in the texts. That tells me that most scholars don’t know what to do with this so I’m in good company. Unlike most scholars though, I’m not going to brush the difference under the rug. I’ll come right out and tell you I don’t know what to do with this “problem”.
Wherever Jesus was, there was a guy who was covered with leprosy. Now leprosy wasn’t a specific disease. It was an umbrella term for a number of skin diseases. Whatever this man had, he had it bad- he was “covered with leprosy,” (Luke 5:12). There were very specific laws that pertained to the treatment of people with skin diseases. Read Leviticus 13:1-46 for a fuller understanding of the “diagnosis and treatment”. If you were declared unclean by the priest because of a skin disease you were required to wear torn clothes, keep you hair messy, cover the lower part of your face, cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” when around other people, and live alone outside the camp or city. It’s not an easy lifestyle so it’s no wonder we find this leper seeking Jesus’ help. I love his faith! He says “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” (Luke 5:12). He doesn’t say, can you make me clean. Instead he recognizes that Jesus is able, he just has to be willing to do it. It reminds me of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Before being tossed into the flames they tell King Nebuchadnezzar, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Basically, they tell the prideful King, “Look, we know that God is able to save us, but if he is not willing we still won’t worship you.” It’s that idea that God is able but not willing that makes me think about how we pray. Do we pray for what we want and expect God to bend to our wants or do we pray and seek God’s will in all things and bend our will to his? And when God’s will is done are we truly ok with that if it is a different outcome than what we want? This is the kind of faith displayed by the leper.
I noticed something else about what the leper says. He doesn’t ask Jesus to make him healthy, he asks Jesus to make him clean. There is a difference. Being made healthy is just a physical healing. Being made clean is a total restoration of spirit and body. Declaring someone clean was a job for the priests, not a doctor. The leper recognizes he is standing before the ultimate High Priest. He is seeking a complete restoration, not just health. What a testimony of faith! Jesus, seeing this faith, is willing to restore him. Once again we see Jesus touching the sick. This notion of Jesus touching the unclean is interesting to me as it would’ve made Jesus unclean too. But we never hear about Jesus going to the Temple to be restored. Not that he needed to because he was God, after all. But I think it shows 1) Jesus’ heart for the hurting and 2) the old laws are fulfilled through Jesus. No longer do people need to be ritualistically cleansed to be spiritually pure because belief in Jesus is the new order of things… yet! Yet we see Jesus instructing the man to go, “show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing,” (Luke 5:14). But Jesus isn’t telling him to do it just to keep the law, he says to do it, “as a testimony to them.” Them refers to the priests. Jesus wants them to see that their high priest has come! The high priest to end all high priest, who can not only declare someone clean but can make them clean inside and out has come. If you want to learn more about the rituals and sacrifices that were done to make someone clean after they were healed from a skin disease, read Leviticus 14:1-32.
I forget where I found this now, but in preparing for this study I read that we can see the way someone comes to Christ by looking at the leper. First, he recognized his condition. He was sick and nothing he tries on his own is working. Second, He recognizes his need for a doctor- someone with a cure, someone who could offer him relief. Third, He realized he couldn’t afford to pay the doctor and had to ask for pro bono work. and Fourth he had to receive the free treatment. He had to be willing to accept the gift of healing. Oh how this captures our journey to Jesus! We are all sinners but only some recognize this sin and the need for a Savior. We can try to fix ourselves, we can try to ignore it but our sin won’t go away on its own. It is like a cancer that invades our soul, metastasizing healthy tissue into disease. It’s when we realize that we can’t heal ourselves that we begin looking for a healer. Someone who can take our sin and remove it from our souls with surgical precision. But we can never afford to pay the sin doctor… the cost is too high. We can’t afford to pay and he doesn’t take our insurance. The inevitable outcome of our sin is eternal death it’s something we earned and we are in debt up to our eyeballs. The price to be healed? We can’t pay it no matter how hard we try so we beg the Merciful Surgeon to pay for our treatment. And instead of letting us wallow in our sin, instead of letting us die because we can’t pay, he covers the cost. He bestows his mercy upon us and takes the punishment for our sin for us. The crazy thing is is that he did this even for those who don’t want his gift. But only those who willingly receive this gift will be saved. Jesus is the doctor, we are the sick. He is the cure, we are the diseased. How my heart aches for those who don’t see this and how it aches all the more for those who recognize their sin, recognize Jesus as the Savior and yet won’t take the medicine that he offers that will heal them completely!
Lord, Thank you so much for opening our eyes to our desperate need for you. Father, I pray that you begin to soften hearts. I pray that you begin to stir in us believers the desire to reach these people who are dying and need your cure. I pray that you begin with me, God! Begin with me and send me! Put me with people who need you and give me the words to say that would draw them close to you. Use our circumstances to be a light that shines through us so that others may see you in our lives no matter what happens. Amen!