The Healing of a Leper

1When He came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed Him. 2A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." 3Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. 4Then Jesus said to him, "See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."

After Jesus finished the Sermon on the Mount, "the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority" (Matt. 7:28-29). In chapter 8, Matthew begins a section that details some of the miracles that Jesus performed. In this way, Matthew shows that Jesus, indeed, had authority to teach the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. "It was fitting that the greatest sermon ever preached should be immediately followed by mighty proofs that the preacher was the Son of God. Those who heard the Sermon on the Mount would be obliged to confess, that, as none ‘spake such words as this man,’ so also none did such works." [Ryle, 73].

The first miracle that Matthew recounts is the healing of a leper: "A man with leprosy came and knelt before Him and said, ‘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!’ Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’" (vss. 2–4). Leprosy is a contagious disease that gradually rots away the flesh, deadening the nerve endings as it goes, eventually leading to death. It is still incurable, though there are now treatments that in most cases will arrest the disease. In the Bible, leprosy is a type of sin: loathsome, spreading and incurable, gradually rotting away the flesh, deadening the nerve endings as it goes, eventually leading to death.

Lepers were not allowed to live in towns or villages, but were quarantined in their own areas. If anyone was seen unwittingly approaching them, they were required to call out, "Unclean! Unclean!" (see Lev. 13:45). (Oh, if only those infected with sin were required to call out "Unclean!", so that their contagion could not spread). Thus, the leper in this episode displayed boldness, as well as a great amount of faith, in coming out to Jesus to be healed. The leper stated his faith: "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" (vs. 2). The leper had faith that Jesus had the power to heal him, saying with no qualification, "You can make me clean." In the leper’s mind, the only question was whether Jesus was "willing" to heal him. The leper knew of the complex ways of God. God has His purposes. Though God could in a moment rid the world of all sickness and pain, it is not His will to do so right now. The leper knew this, and decided to ask God’s son directly if He was willing to heal Him.

Jesus, when He walked the earth, never denied a request for healing; He never said, "I will not." We are often told that Jesus "healed all" that came to Him (see Matt. 4:24; 8:16; 9:35; 12:15; 14:36; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; 6:19). This case is no exception. Jesus said: "I am willing. Be clean!" (vs. 3). With this, Jesus stated His will, and then demonstrated His power to carry out His will. It is worth noting that "every other worker of miracles in the Old or the New Testament constantly ascribes the power and the glory to another; Jesus alone uses such expressions as ‘I will, be thou clean’, ‘I charge thee, come out of him’, ‘I say unto thee, arise’" [Broadus, 176].

Note also that Jesus did not only speak to the leper to heal Him: "Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man" (vs. 3). Relive this scene in your mind: A leper, feared and reviled as unclean, approaches Jesus, who is surrounded by a crowd. As the leper approaches, the crowd no doubt withdraws in fear, leaving only Jesus and the leper. The leper, out of respect for Jesus, surely did not approach too nearly, just close enough to make his plea. Jesus does not withdraw, as the rest of the crowd surely did. Instead, Jesus approaches the leper, "reaches out His hand and touches the man." The gentle touch of Jesus was undoubtedly the only human contact the leper had since he contracted the disease. "Jesus could simply have spoken the healing words, but we should not miss the compassion implied in the ‘he stretched out his hand and touched him’" [Morris, 189]. The leper must have had mixed feelings as, to the amazement of the withdrawn observers, Jesus reached out to him. Quite probably, the leper shied away a bit as Jesus reached out, knowing that a leper is required by law to avoid human contact because those who touch a leper themselves become ceremonially unclean. Yet, he wanted to be healed, and he knew that Jesus could heal him. And so, Jesus touched him, and instead of Jesus becoming unclean, the leper was cleansed "immediately". The healing power of Jesus was clearly demonstrated. The touch of Jesus did not merely cause the beginning of a remission of the disease. Rather, the leper was cleansed "immediately", right there on the spot. Jesus was the only one who could touch a leper and cleanse the defilement, rather than Himself being defiled. In this way too, leprosy is a type of sin.

After the healing, Jesus said to the leper: "See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them" (vs. 4). Many are puzzled by Jesus’ command to the leper: "See that you don’t tell anyone." The reason for this command is made clear from Mark’s account of this episode. It turns out that the leper did not heed Jesus’ command: "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" (Mark 1:45). The hysteria caused by the reports of healings prevented Jesus from carrying out other important works, such as "teaching in the synagogues", and "preaching the good news of the kingdom" (see Matt. 4:23). "Our Lord would not increase His own reputation. He sought no honor of men, and He did not wish to swell the crowds which, even now, made it almost impossible for Him to go about His work. He sought usefulness, and not fame… It would have been hard for the leper to have held his tongue, but he ought to have done so when bidden. Be it ours to speak, or to be silent, as our Lord requires" [Spurgeon, 87]. By disobeying this command, the leper, no matter what his motive, only served to make Jesus’ mission more difficult.

Jesus also commanded the leper: "But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." In Leviticus 13 and 14, the laws concerning the ceremonial cleansing of a healed leper are given. The cleansing of the leper’s body was followed by his ceremonial cleansing through the presentation of a sin offering to God for atonement. This is compatible with leprosy being a type of sin: the cleansed body represents the cleansing from sin. At the time that this leper was healed, these laws stood. The laws concerning sin offerings for atonement, however, were not to stand for long. Jesus, through the sacrifice of His body, was to fulfill these laws once and for all. We are now cleansed from sin, not through the blood of goats and bulls, but through the blood of Jesus Christ. By accepting His sacrifice for our sins, we can enter into the presence of God guiltless and cleansed from sin. May the Lord be praised!

 

 

Home | Previous Article | Next Article | Back Issues | Contents | Complete Index | Mailing List

To contact us:

ssper@aol.com