Old Testament Readings: Leviticus 13: 45,56;
Numbers 5: 1-3
Gospel Reading: Mark 1:40-45
Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together after Gods ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep you only unto her, so long as you both shall live? That is the question the man is asked in the traditional wedding service according to The Book of Common Prayer. The question to the man is followed by the very same question to the woman.
Two things stand out. First, the things one must agree to in order to proceed with the marriage are very big indeed. One must agree to love, comfort, honor, keep this spouse regardless of health, and to forsake every other person for this one for as long as you both remain alive. Before the father can give the bride, or the man and woman take their vows, they must first agree to these things.
The other remarkable thing is how simple yet profound is the expected answer. The man and woman in turn answer, I will. The words can be said in a second, and I expect that they are too often said glibly with the fingers crosses, but they commit you to this high standard of married life.
This part of the service is called The Declaration of Intent. The minister is asking, What is your will in this matter? Will you do these things or not? The man and woman declare their wills, what they intend to do. These simple words say what one will do.
In Mark 1: 40-45 Jesus declares His will concerning one leper but also concerning every unclean person who comes to Him for cleansing.
I. The Condition of the Man
The man had leprosy. If you go back to the Old Testament book of Leviticus, you will find two whole chapters, thirteen and fourteen, devoted to the diagnosis of leprosy. What we mean when we use the word leprosy today is one specific disease, Hansens, which is caused by a bacillus kin to tuberculosis. When we read the material in Leviticus we find that in Biblical times the term leprosy covered a great many skin diseases. The person who made the examination and decided how the case would be handled was the priest. As we will see, leprosy was not just a matter of illness, but more importantly a matter of ritual cleanness that had to do with whether the person could be a part of the community and participate in its worship. The need of a leper is described in the Bible always, not as healing, but as cleansing.
When the priest determined the case to be a case of leprosy, using the criteria given by the LORD to Moses, the consequences were very serious for the person, his family, and his future. The instruction given in Leviticus 13 says: The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hear of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out. Unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean so long as he has the disease, He is unclean, He shall live alone, His dwelling shall be outside the camp (45,46). The person became an outcast who kept an unkempt appearance, who must warn others when they approached lest the contract ritual uncleanness by their contact with him, and who must live apart from the community. In Numbers 5 we find a specific incident that may record the first time the instructions were carried out. The LORD told Moses now to expel those who had leprosy that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell. Gods holiness required them to be separated from Israel. The people did as the LORD commanded through Moses. (Numbers 5: 1-3).
It was a terrible thing to get the diagnosis of leprosy. For the person it had an effect similar to what we feel when the word cancer is used in our diagnosis. For the community the effect was like learning that someone has AIDS. The patient experienced fear and isolation. The community experienced fear and withdrawal. The man who approached Jesus was a leper. Whether he had Hansens or some other kind of apparently incurable and probably disfiguring skin disease we do not know. But the consequences of his diagnosis we know.
It is not surprising that throughout the centuries leprosy has been used as a metaphor for or illustration of sin. It surely was a real illness, but the nature of the illness reminds of many things about the nature of sin. For instance, the disease was considered incurable apart from miraculous intervention. The sufferer, nor his friends and relatives, nor the priests could bring about a cure. Often today we are tempted to think of sin as an illness, perhaps serious, perhaps not, that can be self-treated. But the fact of the matter is that sin in incurable and in the end always fatal apart from divine intervention.
For another instance, leprosy cut the person off from God, because the leper could not live in the community where God dwelled in the midst of His people, nor could he participate in the worship of the temple. Sin does that to us, too. It cuts us off from God, from approaching him with confidence, from fellowship with Him, In addition leprosy cut the person off from other people. Sin does the same because we so often hurt people and drive people away by our sin.
Then leprosy made a person feel his uncleanness and unworthiness, for he wore shoddy clothes, did not groom his hair, and was required to cover his face and cry out, Unclean, when others approached. Our sin, when we know it for what it really is, when we see how ugly and destructive it is, makes us feel dirty and not worthy to approach God or to be in the Church. In one of the old confessions of sin we say of ourselves, There is no health in us. In another we confess our sinful nature, prone to evil and slothful in good. Those are true confessions, not only for unbelievers, but also for Christians. They enable us to tell the truth about ourselves, and such confession is good for the soul.
One more parallel between leprosy and sin has to do with what the Law could do. The Law could diagnose leprosy and spell out the consequences, but the Law had no power to cleanse. Nothing was wrong with the Law. It accurately identified the disease and spelled out what must happen if one had the disease. The same is true with regard to sin and what we call the Moral Law summarized in the Ten Commandments. The Commandments reveal that we are sinners and they warn of the judgment our sins deserve, but they are not able to heal or cleanse us from sin.
II. The Crux of the Matter
The crux of the matter occurs in the exchange between the leper and Jesus in verse 41. The man approached Jesus, knelt down, and imploringly said, If you will, you can make me clean. He boldly approaches Jesus, for lepers were supposed to stay away from those who were clean. He knelt which shows his humility and submission before Jesus.
But most important is the confidence he expressed, You can make me clean. He had no doubt about the power, the ability of Jesus. He believed Jesus could heal him of leprosy, which would mean he would be declared clean when He was examined by the priest. Do you, as a sinner, believe that about Jesus? It may be that you have been involved in some very defiling sorts of sins. You feel the dirtiness of it, and you wonder if a person such as you could ever again be clean. Maybe you have surrendered your virginity in immoral circumstances, or you have been promiscuous in immorality, or you have by words and conduct terribly hurt your parents, or spouse, or someone else who loves you. It may be that you are an unbeliever who has never come to Christ for forgiveness. Or you may be a believe who wonders if you can ask for cleansing once again when you have already had to ask so many times. Do you remember what we read from 1 John as part of the assurance of pardon? If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1:9).
The only question that remained for the man was Jesus will. Jesus can, but does Jesus will to do it? Some of us may struggle at this point. It is not so much that we doubt what Jesus is able to do. We believe that in His life, death, and resurrection He has done everything necessary for the cleansing of sins. We may believe that His saving work is so effective that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven and no sinner too sinful to be cleansed. But doubts come at the point of His willingness to do it for us. He can, but will He forgive and cleanse me?
It is important for us to observe carefully how Jesus responded to this mans statement. Note the emotion Jesus experienced. He was moved with compassion. This man was ill, ritually unclean, unkempt, probably physically repulsive, an outcast from society, and unqualified to approach God at the temple, but Jesus felt compassion. Jesus is far more capable of true compassion than we. As Paul tells us in Romans, it was while we were still weak Christ died for the ungodly, and while we were still sinners Christ died for us, and while we were still enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5: 6,8,10). It is not our attractiveness or our worthiness that draws Christs compassion. His compassion goes out toward us in our sin, our helplessness, and our defilement.
Moved by compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the man. It was a thing none of Jesus disciples would have thought or dared to do. Lepers were unclean and were supposed to give others warning so they would not come close enough to catch ritual defilement. Just coming too close, to say nothing of touching was enough to convey temporary ritual defilement to the person who did not have disease. But Jesus boldly touched him. As Calvin said, He adds the contact of His hand to show His compassion. A person, who knows that he is not supposed to be touched, and who probably has not experienced the touch of a human hand for a long time, has to be moved when someone is willing to touch him. Jesus could touch the leper and contract no defilement because of who He was, the Son of God.
Jesus has done more for us sinners than touch a few lepers. He became one with us in our human nature, one with us in our human nature that is weak and mortal, defiled by sin, and yet He was not Himself made a sinner by His contact with us. Calvin said it so well: For in assuming our flesh, He has granted us more than the touch of His hand, He has brought Himself into one and the same body with us, that we should be flesh of His flesh. He does not only stretch out His arm to us, but He comes down from heaven, even to the very depths; yet He catches no stain thereby, but stays whole, clears all our dirt away, and pours into us His own holiness. That is the significance of His incarnation. He became one with us that He might provide us with cleansing from all our sin and sins.
As He touched the man, Jesus said, I will; be clean. Immediately the leprosy disappeared and the man was clean. We who struggle with our own defilement from sin, might wish that we could hear Jesus so speaking to us so that we might know that what Jesus can do He will do for us. Do you think that Jesus does not now speak to us to assure us? He spoke to us in the assurance of pardon this morning, telling us that if we confess He will forgive and cleanse. He is speaking to us in the Word read and preached this morning, saying, I will; be clean. He speaks to us in our baptism assuring us that we are cleansed from the guilt of sin by His blood and from the defilement of sin by His Holy Spirit. He will speak to us on the Lords Supper tonight, saying, This is my body, given for you. This is my blood of the new covenant shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
III. The Command of the Messiah
When the cleansing occurred Jesus issued two commands to the former leper. Jesus issued a stern warning and sent the man away with the charge, See that you say nothing to anyone. This seems to us a strange command. Why would Jesus not want this man to go out and to tell people what Jesus had done for him? Would this man not make a powerful witness? Many people knew this man had been a leper and that he was an outcast. Would it not make a striking impression on them when they saw the man with healthy skin, perhaps with fingers, or toes, or a nose partially eaten away now restored?
Why did Jesus give such a command? Probably for two reasons. First, Jesus did want to attract people by healings. The healings were signs that the kingdom had come and meant to move people to ask, Who is this man who cures the incurable? But He did not want people to be attracted to Him the way day supposed healers of our time do. He was not trying to make a sensation by healing people.
Second, the priority of Jesus public ministry was preaching. It is noteworthy that, though Jesus healed many sick people during His ministry, there is not record of His every seeking anyone out to heal them. He did seek out opportunities to preach, and He knew that publicity about His healing ministry would hinder His preaching ministry. This is a lesson the church today greatly needs to learn. The way to carry on effective ministry is not by sensationalism or by seeking attention, but by carrying on the faithful ministry of the Word.
Jesus also directed the man to go and show himself to the priest and to make the offering prescribed for those who experienced cleansing. At this time the whole of the Law of Moses was in effect. That included the laws concerning ceremonial cleanliness. The Law called for a person, who believed himself to be healed, to go to a priest for an examination and, if the cleansing proved to be real, to make an offering to the LORD. Jesus did not set aside the requirement of the Law, but instructed the cleansed man to obey it.
Now we will see later in Mark and in other places in the New Testament that the ceremonial laws were set aside when Jesus completed His mission. The laws about sacrifices, and ceremonial cleanliness, and ritual washings were fulfilled in the coming, life, and death of Jesus. But the moral Law – the laws that have to do with moral character and conduct – is still in effect for us. When Jesus cleanses us from our sins, He does not tell us to ignore or minimize the Law. He, in a sense, sends us back to the Law, and says, As a forgiven and cleansed sinner, now go and keep the Law. Paul put it this way: For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8: 3,4). Gods purpose was not just to have Christ fulfill the Law for us by obeying the Law and suffering its penalty for us. That is our justification. God also intends through Christ to fulfill the Law in us. This is our sanctification. Today, when Jesus makes us clean from our sins He says to us, Go now and keep the Law that is no more your enemy but your friend.
Sadly, this man did not obey at least part of what the Messiah commanded. He went out and talked freely. He spread the news of what had happened to him. The result was the Jesus ministry was hindered. So much publicity and excitement came about that Jesus could not go into the towns and preach for the crowds thronged him. In when Jesus stayed in the desolate places, the crowd sought Him out.
We think, Well the poor fellow was so happy he couldnt contain himself. He had to testify about what Jesus had done for him. But Jesus asked for the testimony of his life first. Jesus wanted him to bear testimony by his obedience, by going to the priest and making the offering required by the Law. We must learn that we must do the Lords work in his way, not ours. Not even our sincerity and enthusiasm justify our taking matters into our own hands and substituting our wisdom for His.
One of the most important ways we can demonstrate the reality of our cleansing and show our gratitude is by the obedience of our lives. Perhaps you as an unbeliever have found cleansing from sin today. Perhaps you as a conscience-stricken Christian have found reassurance of His cleansing today. If you have, go now and testify of your cleansing by your obedience.
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