A diseased man came to Jesus asking to be made clean if Jesus was willing. He didn’t doubt Jesus’ ability, but wasn’t sure what the answer would be. Sometimes we question if Jesus is willing to act on our behalf, but what we discover is that Jesus wants to do more in us than we can imagine.
At some point in life, in a moment of desperation, maybe over a final exam you didn’t prepare for, a project deadline at work you’re not going to make, any situation you can’t get yourself out of, you have said words similar to this…
“God, if you will…I promise to…” Right?!
I recently did this. I made a mistake, a dumb mistake, that was potentially going to cost $14,000 to fix. Now, in case you’re wondering, I don’t have that stuffed in a mattress anywhere. I think I’m walking large when I’ve got $14 in my pocket.
When I found out what I had done, I was instantly sick, thinking all the ways this would impact plans my wife and I are making. And I said those words, “God, if you will…”
Even if you say you’re not a spiritual person, you’ve thrown up one of these desperation, hail mary prayers.
In essence, what we’re saying is, “God, if you’d be willing to do this for me …” We’re facing something we know we can’t deal with, handle, or get ourselves out of, and we’re not sure God would be willing to rescue us either, but we throw it out there anyway.
We’re not the first to question if God would be willing. Mark, who wrote of Jesus’ life from the first-hand perspective of the disciple Peter, tells of an encounter Jesus had with a man who came with the very same question.
We read, “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.”
This man, with no identity other than his condition, approaches Jesus. This is no ordinary encounter. The man had leprosy, a treatable disease today, but it was a living death sentence in the first century. It was a highly infectious disease that attacks your nervous system. You begin to lose the feeling of sensation in your body, which leaves you vulnerable to all sorts of problems, causing permanent damage to your skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.
One doctor wrote of it, “Hansen’s disease (as it’s known today) is cruel but not in the way other diseases are. It primarily acts like an anesthetic, numbing the pain cells of hands, feet, nose, eyes, and ears.” The real damage is done because you can’t feel what’s happening to your body. Your early warning system called pain is inoperable.
Now, what’s important is not just his disease but what it meant for him. Leprosy was not only physically debilitating; it was socially isolating.
Jewish religious laws called lepers unclean and untouchable. They were outcasts; religiously, socially, and financially isolated, dependent on charity for survival. They couldn’t work, so they begged for money and food, hoping that someone, anyone, would have compassion for them.
But that wasn’t common, especially from the religious community.
Rabbis, the religious leaders of the day, would pride themselves on avoiding lepers. One bragged he wouldn’t even buy an egg on a street where he saw a leper. Another boasted that he threw rocks at them to keep them far from him.
Lepers were to stay at least six feet away from everyone. It was written that” anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” so people could avoid them.
Parts of that sound weirdly familiar doesn’t it?! The origins of social distancing!
This man had lost his family, job, friends, his ability to worship God. He had no hope. He was considered the walking-dead.
Interestingly, there was no record of a Jewish person being healed of leprosy since the establishment of the Mosaic or Jewish religious law in the Old Testament, hundreds and hundreds of years prior to this. Yet, that same law gave instructions for what was to happen IF a leper was healed. This developed a teaching among the Rabbis that only the Messiah, the promised one of God, could heal a person with leprosy.
So, the man “came to him and begged him on his knees.”
He’s breaking the rules. It’s a bold, brave, desperate, I don’t care what others think kind of move. He would never have been brought by family or carried by friends. He would have been kept away.
But he comes to Jesus through the crowd we’re told in another account of this same story. He violates all the religious and social exclusion laws in his desperation to be free from this disease and reclaim his life. No doubt, as he approached, the people in the crowd were reacting, pulling away, yelling at him, probably throwing things. Maybe he was yelling out “unclean” to make it easier to get through everyone and to Jesus.
This is relatively early in Jesus’ travels, but you can read in this first chapter of Mark that Jesus has healed many people already. The word is spreading about this teacher from Nazareth. This man has heard what’s been happening, and now, Jesus is in his town, his neighborhood, and he’s not going to miss his opportunity. He was willing to risk the shame, the embarrassment, the disdain to go where he was never supposed to go.
Falling at Jesus’ feet with his face toward the ground, reaching out in a last attempt at life again, he says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Man, sit with that for a second.
Not, “do for me what you did for them!” No, his request is words shaped by years of living with the indifference of others. But he’s heard the stories, and in his request is a simple belief that what Jesus has done for others, he could do for him. Jesus could make him clean.
IF he is willing.
My wife and I recently had two weeks of family staying with us, a total of six extra people and two dogs in addition to our two, including a night of extended family that added at least another ten people and one more dog.
When the last car pulled away, Jamie and I immediately went into a cleaning frenzy! Do you remember this guy? We became the living, breathing Mr. and Mrs. Clean! I’m convinced a dirty house is the root cause of most anxiety! A clean home is our peaceful zen, and we had lost our zen in those two weeks!
Clean is a good feeling.
A cool shower to wash away the sweat of a hot day.
Pulling on freshly cleaned clothes.
How about this one, climbing into clean sheets at bedtime. I mean, come on, who’s with me?! Clean feels like a fresh start, a new beginning.
What this man wanted was to be clean. He wanted to become a person again and have his identity back, not as a leper, but as a son, brother, friend, and reunited with his family and community. And he believed Jesus could do it.
The response he gets is, at first glance, shocking.
“Jesus was indignant.” Mark 1:41
He gets angry? Is he looking at his disciples, “Really, guys! Who let him through!” Now, you’ll read in other translations it says that Jesus was moved with compassion. Isn’t this a contradiction because there’s a massive difference between indignation and compassion?
I think Jesus was feeling both, just like we sometimes do.
One of my daughters is working through some internal physical issues, and she’s gone through the medical system she’s insured with, met with doctors, taken tests, and been left with no answers, no alternatives, no direction, no real hope! I’ve been on the phone with her as she’s crying, worn down from the symptoms, and honestly, I get err angry! That’s my emotion as a father seeing my daughter suffer because of a system that won’t go the extra mile to find out what’s wrong!
But I’m not angry at her. I am overwhelmed with compassion for her, and my love for my daughter makes me willing to do whatever I can to help her.
I believe Jesus was indignant, angry at a system that allowed this man to be seen as the living dead. He was angry at the disease that racked his body and the brokenness within the world that brought disease into the human experience.
But he also had a deep love and compassion for the man that others were disgusted by and spit on. And his deep love and compassion led him to do something unheard of. “He reached out his hand and touched the man. “’I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!'” Mark 1:41
You can still hear the gasp from the crowd 2000 years later! “No, he didn’t!” If there had been cell phones, this would be a viral video in no time! To touch a leper was unheard of and would instantly make you unclean according to religious law.
But Jesus reaches out to touch.
He didn’t have to. He’s making a very public statement.
Mark’s account talks a lot about Jesus’ touch, as does Luke in his account. Many times, in both, Jesus is touching somebody, or somebody is touching Jesus. He loved giving people the touch of compassion, kindness, and belonging, especially people that nobody else would touch.
This man was covered with leprosy, meaning he’d had it for a while. It had been a very long time since he had felt anyone’s touch since anyone looked at him with love and compassion since anyone reached out and put their hand on him.
“Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.” Mark 1:42
With a single touch, Jesus becomes unclean to make the man clean. With one statement, he declares the heart of the Gospel, the good news. “I am willing.”
Jesus touched the untouchable and cured the incurable.
If we’re going to live a Christ-centered life, if we’re going to Think, Act, and Be like Jesus, this is what Jesus would do because it’s what he did. As Christ-followers, as a church, we have to fight against any system or way of thinking that says anyone is untouchable or undeserving of God’s love, regardless of lifestyle, past, orientation, political affiliation, all the conditions and qualifiers we put on people.
Jesus didn’t pull back from this man, and if we’re living in the Jesus way, we don’t pull back from anyone either. Two of the most significant faults of the Church are a judgmental attitude and indifference. Jesus was neither.
Now, it’s interesting to note that the man asked to be cleansed, not healed. Why?
In just a moment, we’ll take a look at that.
So, Jesus, in an incredible display of compassion, touches this man, and he is immediately made clean. Time to celebrate, right? Sort of. Look what Jesus tells him.
“Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them. 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. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” Mark 1:43-45
Jesus sends him away, which the man’s used to, but not because he was still an outcast in Jesus’ eyes, but rather to be brought back into the community, to family, and to regain his identity. Jesus is sending him to the priests to be declared “clean” according to religious law.
It’s symbolic of his regeneration. Now, that a great spiritual word which at its core means rebirth into a new life. I love how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “brought again into existence.”
That’s what’s happening! The disease which brought separation, isolation and was leading to death, is gone! Jesus healed the man physically, but there’s more to it than that. Jesus touched the whole of this man’s life. He met not only the physical need, but also the relational, emotional, and spiritual pain this man was living in. With a touch, he dealt directly with the totality of it all.
You see, the cleansing of Jesus is holistic.
His greatest miracle isn’t on the outside but the inside.
There are two metaphors we need to notice in this story.
First, leprosy is the perfect metaphor for sin.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, leprosy is this spiritual picture of sin in our lives. Not that this man has it because of sin in his life, but the impact of the disease on him mirrors what sin does.
Just as leprosy begins small and then spreads throughout the body, so does sin. We think what our choices or what we’re doing is insignificant, until…
*it infects your integrity and impacts your career
*or your morality and destroys your relationships
*or your financial responsibility and endangers your future
*or your spirituality and you drift away from God
And then that small, insignificant thought or choice or activity has consumed you.
James, the brother of Jesus, and imagine that, growing up as the little brother of the all-knowing sinless One, in writing about the growth of sin within us said, “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:5
Spiritually, sin’s impact makes us the walking dead, and we need a new beginning, just as this man did.
And second, cleansing is the perfect metaphor for a new life in Jesus.
Jesus isn’t afraid of your brokenness and sin; that thing in your life that you believe, or you’ve been told makes you an untouchable, an outcast, an outlier to God. He doesn’t stay 6 feet away from you and make you yell out, “Unclean.” He is not repulsed by your sin, throwing rocks of judgment at you.
He’s filled with compassion just as he was for this man. He enters the mess and brokenness of your life. He touches and heals.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul, who had a horrendous spiritual extremist past until he met Jesus, said. Speaking of Jesus, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 3:4-5
The word he uses for purify is the same Mark used for cleanse, to be made clean, a new start, brought again into existence! Elsewhere Paul describes this new beginning this way; “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Look closely at what Jesus accomplished for this man and what he does for us.
The cleansing was PHYSICAL.
We’ve already talked about what leprosy meant for the man physically. His body was breaking down. It would eventually lead to his death.
And in a display of his power, Jesus, with a touch, regenerates the man’s body immediately!
Open sores and wounds, gone. The physical condition that caused others to run in the opposite direction and look away in disgust, gone. In an instant, this man is healed.
Last week Matt gave the invitation to join our prayer team virtually and pray for healing. It wasn’t a one-time offer. If you want prayer for physical healing, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll connect you with the prayer team, and we’ll believe together for God to do a miracle in your life.
The touch of Jesus renews bodies.
The cleansing was also RELATIONAL.
Mother Teresa, who served those with leprosy in India, said, “We have drugs for people with diseases like leprosy. But these drugs do not treat the main problem, the disease of being unwanted. The sick and poor suffer even more from rejection than material want. Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
With the touch of Jesus, all the relationships broken because of disease could now be restored. He could return home, kiss his wife, hug his kids, hang out with his friends, be a part of the community again. He could belong.
Sin isolates, even if it’s just within yourself. It can easily result in lost friendships, failed marriages, estranged children, broken families. Ultimately, sin brings separation from God.
But the touch of Jesus restores relationships.
The cleansing was EMOTIONAL.
Leprosy was an emotionally scarring disease. It became your identity. You didn’t just have leprosy. You were a leper. It affected your physical appearance, progressively disfiguring your body and especially your face. Day after day, you’d see the looks of disgust and fear on the faces of others. You’d hear the derogatory words.
The emotional, psychological fallout was severe.
Sin has an insidious way of getting you to believe at first that it’s just harmless, you’re not hurting anyone, it’s meeting the emotional need you’re missing. But as it plays out in life, the emotional consequences and scars become guilt, shame, regret, depression, and worse.
Left alone, sin will consume your identity.
But the touch of Jesus reclaims identities.
And last, the cleansing was SPIRITUAL.
This man was not allowed in the Temple, the place to worship God at that time. He was judged by a religious culture that looked down on him, blamed him for his disease, displayed anything but love and compassion toward him. He had no way to connect with God, to find any kind of relief from his suffering.
The ultimate power of sin is to get you to believe you’re beyond God’s love. “Just look at who you are, what you’ve done.”
Or that you don’t need Him. I’ll just keep pursuing career success, financial success, relationships, sex, power, fill in your own blank.
But in the end, always, it leaves you empty and alone because it cannot fill that space that only God can.
The touch of Jesus is a rebirth spiritually.
All of this is what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
There’s not a question of IF he’s willing. He’s proven he his with his very life.
Notice too that last part of the story.
Instead of going to the Temple and meeting with the priests as Jesus told him to, his excitement gets the best of him, and he can’t keep his mouth shut! He’s everywhere, telling people, “You have to come and see Jesus! Look what he did for me!”
There’s a truth in advertising that the most effective marketing campaign is not targeted Facebook ads, Super Bowl commercials, or filling anyone’s inbox with clickbait.
It’s word of mouth, people who have bought into your product or service, and they are believers! They talk it up to anyone and everyone they meet. “You have to try this; you need to go there; it’s unlike anything else!”
This man was the walking dead, and now he has a new life, and he’s not quiet about it. He becomes a walking testimony of the redemptive power of Jesus, all because he came to see. And as a result, the crowds came to find out just who Jesus was.
That challenges me.
I talk about Jesus for a living. This man did it because he was overwhelmed by what Jesus did for him.
If you’re a Christ-follower, and I’m asking myself this, how often do you feel that? How often do you express that to others? When was the last time you talked to someone about what Jesus has done for you and invited them to come and see for themselves?
The invitation may look slightly different today than it did a year ago, but the message hasn’t changed. Jesus is willing if they’ll simply come and see.
Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus from your family, friends, coworkers, or some time spent in church when you were young. You’ve heard the stories of what he’s done for them, but you’re not sure He’d do the same for you.
Or you’re not the religious type; you’re not sure you believe all this stuff about God.
Maybe you think you’re untouchable and something in your life has left you an outlier of family, community, even from the church.
I encourage you to ask Jesus if he’d be willing.
Just as this man’s life was made new by the touch of Jesus, yours can too.
Oh, and by the way, my $14,000 mistake, God said “I’m willing” and made a way possible out from under it. And there was much rejoicing!
Blue Oaks Church