Cleansed Mark 1:40-45, 1 John 1:8-10
The term “leprosy” (including leper, lepers, leprosy, leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible- 55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath) and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek = lepros, lepra). In the Old Testament, the instances of leprosy most likely meant a variety of infectious skin diseases, and even mold and mildew on clothing and walls. Leprosy in both the Old and New Testaments includes what we now call Hansen’s disease (1873: Gerhard Hansen).
Leprosy has terrified humanity since ancient times and was reported as early as 600 BC in India, China, and Egypt. Hansen’s disease is still a major health problem in many parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For many centuries, leprosy was considered a curse of God and associated with sin. Its symptoms start in the skin and then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to forming a claw like hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. The largest numbers of deformities develop from loss of pain sensation due to extensive nerve damage. A leper can pick up a cup of boiling water without flinching. Some have had their fingers eaten by rats in their sleep because their lack of pain receptors. Leprosy is highly contagious and spread by skin contact and bodily fluids. Traditionally lepers were banned from society and forced to live in colonies. In Bible times, when a leper came into town to purchase supplies or get water, he would have to ring a bell and shout “unclean” so that people could get out of his way. The law of the Jews was specific in dealing with leprosy (Leviticus 13). Anyone suspected of having this disease had to go to a priest for examination (Leviticus 13:2-3). If found to be infected, “the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip (so as not to spread the disease through his saliva) and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). The leper was considered utterly unclean—physically and spiritually and was shunned by all. Among the sixty-one defilements of the ancient Jewish law, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. So with this definition in mind let us now consider the fact that Jesus “reached out His hand and touched” such a man! Mark tells us that Jesus was “indignant” as he reached out to the leper. In other words, he was annoyed by the unfair treatment of this man. (The crowds were likely backing up in fear and disgust and shouting obscenities). Yet none of them (but Jesus) was without sin.
The similarities of sin and leprosy: Leprosy in the Bible is a graphic illustration of sin’s destructive power. In ancient Israel leprosy was a powerful object lesson of the debilitating influence of sin in a person’s life: 1.) The practice of sin deadens a person’s spiritual senses like Leprosy deadens the nerves. A person is therefore being destroyed without the reaction to it. 2.) Sin is wickedly contagious and spreads rapidly in a person and can wipe out a family, a community, and a country if not dealt with brutally. 3.) Like Leprosy, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). 4.) In this passage Jesus heals the man’s Leprosy— only Jesus can heal man’s sin. We all have sin (spiritual Leprosy) and must confess it by calling out to Christ (as the Leprous man did) to be healed (1 John 1:8-10). Jesus is willing. Do we want to be clean!
“Tell this to no one!” Mark 1:44. The reason why Christ did not want the miracle to be made known was so that He might have more opportunities and freedom for teaching. The common people flocked for miracles and Jesus needed to extend His time of teaching. “His hour had not yet come” (John 2:4, 6,30). To much popularity and the people would try and make Him king by force (John 6:15). His time would come for this (Matthew 21:8-11, Luke 23:1-3), but His mission was to die for the sins of the world not to be a reigning king over it (John 17:1). Jesus told the man to go to the priest as was prescribed by the law to confirm the healing and then to make a thanksgiving offering of praise as a public testimony. This would have taken longer and fulfilled his requirement to the law. Instead the man “spread the news” and Jesus could no longer travel freely.
Forgiven Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 7:7-8
A few days later Jesus healed a Paralytic. There were so many people that the man could not be carried to Jesus so his friends made an opening in the roof and lowered him down on ropes. This great act of faith impressed Jesus to respond. He and his friends not only asked Jesus for help but sought Him out as well (Matthew 7:7-8). Even though the man was paralyzed he moved on faith! Real faith is displayed in action as is real love (1 John 3:18).
Once again sin is illustrated here with a physical ailment. This time it is by paralysis. Sin likewise brings apathy into our spiritual life. With no interest, enthusiasm, or concern for God one becomes sick with sin—unable to feel or move towards God and healing. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and death is mostly caused by some prevailing illness. To demonstrate this truth Jesus forgave the man’s sin and healed his body. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” the teachers of the law muttered. The answer is no one! Jesus and God are the same. He is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3).
Doctor Jesus Mark 2:13-17, Matthew 11:27-30
Jesus now comes to another sick man (Levi: a tax collector AKA Matthew). His sickness is not physical but he is shunned like a leper by the Jews. He has become rich by over taxing his people and aligning with the Roman government. “Follow Me”, Jesus says and he does. We too are invited to “come”. Jesus declares to His skeptics that He has come for the sick. All men are sick with sin and only Christ can be our cure. Sickness reveals itself in various ways but the cure is just the same. To strip off sin one must put on Christ in faith revealed in action. This is what the “doctor” has ordered! In Him there is rest for our souls.