The Healing Touch - Jesus, more than a physician


After taking a slight diversion in June as we looked at the book of Jonah, we now return to where we left off in the Gospel of Luke. In this morning’s text, we see the amazing story of the healing of a leper. Since it was 5 weeks ago we were last in Luke, let us be reminded that the previous passage to today’s study was the story of the calling of the first disciples, and the amazing catch of fish, and the fact that Jesus told Simon that from now on he would be catching men. We move from that spectacular story to another one that is just as exciting, and yet another demonstration of the power of Jesus.
Yet, by the time we are done this morning, I hope that all of us will see that what happened here goes far beyond just the physical healing of a man with a skin condition, but is a picture for us of the awesome cleansing power of Jesus when it comes to purifying those who follow him of sin, healing us from the spiritual disease we each are afflicted with before we come to Christ. I will read through the account once, and then we will dive right in, gleaning many important spiritual truths from this passage.
I hope that all of us will have a deeper understanding of the deep biblical lessons found in this very short passage.
Luke 5:12–16 ESV
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
A very short account, but packed with quite a punch when it comes to lessons we can learn. Lessons about our attitude towards Jesus, our need to humble ourselves before him, a need to recognize our poor condition spiritually, and what are the actions one takes when they are cleansed by Christ.
Luke 5:12 ESV
While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
I found discussions among the scholars about where this probably took place, but honestly, if Luke did not find it to be integral to the story, I don’t think those discussions are fruitful for us this morning, although for those doing deep studies, they may find it helpful to look into those things. However, let us begin our study considering the condition of the man full of leprosy.
It is important that we don’t ever go beyond what scripture tells us. Some have insisted they could identify the type of condition this many had. In today’s language, leprosy is usually a narrow definition of what is also known as Hansen’s disease, which is a very difficult diagnosis, especially in ancient days without our knowledge and science to help those afflicted. It may have been that type of leprosy, but the word as used by Luke could also be used for any number of skin diseases.
However, Luke gives us this much, that this man was full of leprosy. Some translators have said he was covered with it, or that it was all over him. Clearly this was not a man who simply had a small rash. He had a bad case, and this meant that he had many problems he had to deal with. In fact, it has been said by many that for these ancient Israelites, the bigger issue was not the condition itself, but the social implications. You see, a person with persistent skin issues in that culture was cut off from the community. Kent Hughes writes:
Luke, Vol. 1—That You May Know the Truth (The Leper an Outcast)
We can hardly imagine the humiliation and isolation of a leper’s life. He was ostracized from society because it was thought at that time that leprosy was highly contagious (which it is not). Whenever he came in range of the normal population, he had to assume a disheveled appearance and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” Think about how you would feel shouting this while entering a grocery store or a mall, and the pervasive sense of worthlessness and despair you would experience.
Such a difficult life for the one with this disease! You may have seen the movie “Ben Hur”, and it shows the valley of the lepers. They formed their own community, shut out from regular society. Families would bring baskets of food and leave it a distance away, since they could not get close. So the lepers were also usually beggars, unable to provide for themselves. Hughes continues:

By Jesus’ time, rabbinical teaching, with its minute strictures, had made matters even worse. If a leper even stuck his head inside a house, the house was pronounced unclean. It was illegal to greet a leper. Lepers had to remain at least 100 cubits away if they were upwind, and four cubits if downwind. Josephus, the Jewish historian, summed it up by saying that lepers were treated “as if they were, in effect, dead men”4—dead men walking. Indeed, to the rabbis the cure of a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead.5

If lepers could not be around others, how did it come about that this one was able to approach Jesus? If he were not allowed in the city, how could he have done this? Well, some have said perhaps this happened on the edge of the city, or perhaps in his desperate state, he broke these rules. Certainly he had heard about Jesus, and we can see that he himself has determined, in some way, that Jesus has the power to help him, so he risks even being stoned to death and approaches, and falls on his face before Jesus.
And now we see the measure of this man’s faith. It is found in his wording. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean”. He speaks boldly of the power of Jesus to heal, but is unsure of the desire of Jesus. Just think how he could have worded this. If just a couple words were changed, we would see a lack of faith. If he instead told Jesus, “Lord, if you can, you will make me clean.”
And here we see a very important thing about our posture in coming to Christ. I’ve run across many Christians in my life who will actually rebuke someone for praying to God and saying “If it is your will”. In fact, some word of faith types will even tell you that praying “if it is your will” is proof of a lack of faith, but since Jesus himself prayed to His father, “Your will be done”, I think that we are safe to say that if we would be like Jesus in our faith, that faith will be paired with a humility that asks for God’s help, and notes that His will trumps ours.
The posture of this leper is so much different than some of those word of faith people, who claim their healing, and say that Jesus is obligated to heal them, based on some twisted scriptures that they use, and then they have the perfect out, those faith healers, when people are not healed. You see, these faith healers have a guaranteed out for whenever they pray for someone and they are not healed. You see, if the faith healer prays for you and you are not healed, they will just tell you that is your own fault, because you lacked enough faith. There was some fault in your prayer, or you didn’t believe with full confidence, so therefore unanswered prayer is never the fault of the faith healer, but the fault of the one lacking faith.
That is how they explain away all the times they are wrong. So they can join the weather forecasters and have job security while often being wrong, because after all, I prayed for you, you aren’t healed, you must have sinned, or your faith is lacking, or something else is wrong with you.
That is not what we see in the healing accounts in the gospels. No one is recorded in all of the bible walking up to Jesus and saying “You must heal me, because my faith is strong, and I have claimed my healing, after all”. No, rather, you see them cry out, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” You see the woman crawling up to touch his garment. You find that a man admits he does not have the faith, and tells Jesus “I believe, help my unbelief!”.
There is a level of boldness in some of the healings, such as the men who lower their friend through the roof. Yet no demands. Oh, and let us look now to see that really, the man did not use the words, “Please heal me!”, He asks, that if Jesus is willing, he could make him clean. Here we can understand a little better by understanding the difficulty of living with leprosy in the Jewish community.
What did it mean to be “unclean”? Well, it meant that someone was ceremonially unfit to participate in worship. In the case of lepers, it also meant no human contact with anyone, as I said earlier. This man, full of leprosy, had been unable to go to temple for a long time. He had not sat with his family at dinner for a long time. He had not been meaningfully employed for a long time. This man was lonely, he was separated from God and the people, and he realizes that he is unclean. His desire is not merely to be rid of his skin condition, it is to be restored to the community, and to be let into the temple again so that he could worship.
Wrapped up in his request of Jesus is years of pain, embarrassment, anguish over broken relationships, a sense of worthlessness, and the feeling of being an outcast. He didn’t go and yell at Jesus, and question why he was afflicted, he simply wants to be made clean.
Luke 5:13 ESV
And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
In the greek, Jesus said one word, but our pesky English takes two, “Be clean”. Did Jesus command the man to be clean? Of course, we know if it had been something the man could have done for himself, he would have done anything in his own power already. So was Jesus really commanding him, or simply telling him that he is now clean? I don’t think Jesus was asking the man to muster up some quality that would make him clean. Rather, Jesus the healer was doing what only He could do. This is a true divine healing.
With as much as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland and some of those people love the camera and are always in front of one, in all their years of supposedly healing people have they ever had such dramatic and instant results as this. Jesus stretched out his hand. We know he didn’t need to do that. Jesus can speak or even simply think and have something happen, yet he touched the man. This is how loving and tender our Savior is! This man probably had not felt human touch for years. Humans need to have touch. I read about a man who was widowed and alone, with no family, so he would get a haircut every week, just to have the feeling of touch.
This man most likely did not expect anyone to touch him that day. Remember what his life was like. Shouting out to anyone approaching. “Unclean!” so that they could stay away. Jesus touches him. And he says, I will. This means, “I am willing”. The man had confessed that Jesus had the ability, but he was unsure of whether Jesus had the motivation to heal him. Jesus did have the motivation. He didn’t say to the man, go dip in the Jordan, as Elisha had told Namaan. He didn’t tell him to go wash in the pool of Bethesda. Immediately the leprosy left him.
Luke 5:14 ESV
And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
God had given Moses rules about how a person with leprosy could be declared clean again. It was only through the priests. In Leviticus 14, the rules are laid down of what was to be done for a person healed from leprosy in order for them to be clean again, and readmitted back into society and allowed back to the temple. So he tells the man to obey the law of Moses. This is of note because we know that one of the accusations against Jesus was that He disrespected the laws of Moses, but here he is telling the man to submit himself to the process laid out in the law, for a proof to them.
I could read you the whole chapter on that, but it is pretty long, so instead I want to read you a passage from Kent Hughes, because he summarizes the process required so nicely:

In Biblical times the rare deliverances from leprosy were certified by an elaborate and uniquely joyful ceremony that extended over eight full days in fulfillment of the directives of Leviticus 14. It began when a priest met the would-be celebrant outside the camp and verified that he actually was healed. Then, still outside the camp, two birds were presented along with some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. One of the birds was killed in a clay pot (so that none of its blood was lost). This was done above fresh water (symbolic of cleansing). Next the live bird, along with the wood, yarn, and hyssop, was dipped in the blood, and blood was sprinkled upon the leper seven times as he was pronounced “clean.” This initial ceremony concluded with the live bird being released in the open fields to wing its way to freedom (vv. 1–7). As a result, the blood-sprinkled person could once again join the community. This foreshadowed the effect of Christ’s blood, which reconciles man to God and makes it possible for the sinner to join the household of faith.

After the bird’s release the cleansed man washed his clothing, shaved the hair from his body, bathed, and entered the camp, where he, his family, and friends rejoiced for seven days (vv. 8, 9). On the seventh day his head, eyebrows, and beard were shaved, and he again bathed, so that, like a newborn, he was ready to enter a new phase of his existence.1

On the eighth day the former leper offered three unblemished lambs as a guilt offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. The guilt offering was not an atoning sacrifice but a restitution for the offerings and sacrifices he was unable to make while a leper.2 His restitution and fresh commitment were then dramatically emphasized when the priest took some of the blood and smeared it on the offerer’s right ear, thumb, and toe, then coated each smear with a second anointing of oil, thereby symbolizing that the man would listen to God’s voice, use his hands for God’s glory, and walk in God’s ways. Fittingly, his shaved head was then anointed with the remaining oil (vv. 12–18; cf. Exodus 30:23–25). Finally, having thus declared the leper to be in the Lord’s service, the priest made atonement for him with sin, burnt, and cereal offerings, the last being a joyous expression of gratitude (Leviticus 14:19, 20).

Imagine the joy of the healed man and his family—and the communal celebration that accompanied that great eighth day. It was as if a resurrection had taken place. Very likely there was feasting and singing long into the night.

For us Christians, the Old Testament’s description of these ancient ceremonies elicits incredible joy not only because the Scriptures speak of Christ (cf. Luke 24:27; John 5:39), but also because this elaborate ritual specifically speaks of the atonement through Christ and his power to deliver. This is precisely what Jesus’ healing of the leper in Luke 5 is all is about.

What an amazing thing for this man to be healed of leprosy! You see, in all of the old testament, only two cases are given of someone being healed from leprosy. Miriam, and Namaan. And Moses was given a display of God’s power by having leprosy for all of a few seconds, so we won’t count that, but people were just not normally healed from leprosy. So this is why Jesus sent the man immediately to show himself to a priest, so the priest could declare him clean, and this would be a testimony for everyone that this man was clean and therefore could be admitted back into the society and the temple.
As wonderful as it is to know that Jesus is a healer, who can cure diseases and even raise the dead, it is more important for us to understand that the point of this passage is more about the salvation of Jesus than the healing of Jesus. You see, Leprosy was a picture of sin. Isaiah used leprosy as a metaphor for the sin in Israel:
Isaiah 1:4–6 ESV
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.
And many people in that day understood this quite well. The leper was not any more sinful than anyone else, but his condition was a reminder to everyone of the effects of sin. Just as Jesus told parables, leprosy was a parable itself, a metaphor for sin. One writer said it was an “outward and visible sign of innermost spiritual corruption.”
Having something ugly to look at can be helpful to us to remember how God views sin. I am reminded by Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Grey”. This may spoil the book if you haven’t read it, but I think I can safely say most of you wouldn’t read it anyway. And most definitely don’t go watching a movie about it. The story is about a young man, in the prime of youth, who has his portrait made, and laments that he wishes that instead of him aging, the painting would instead.
Throughout the book, he becomes more and more depraved, because no matter what he does, from murder to perversion, his face and body retain the youthfulness. But at the same time, the portrait, hidden away in his attic, grows more and more hideous. Finally, at the end of the book, the painting is so horrible. It reflects all of the sin and its toll. His picture looks like a devil, while his physical body still looks fine.
Sin is like that sometimes. It is hidden away. Very often it does not manifest in the appearance of a person. Some very great sinners have been some very beautiful people appearance-wise. Seeing someone suffering from any affliction, whether leprosy or some other disease, ought to remind us that sin takes a toll on the world, and though the person suffering may not have sinned to cause their own affliction, those maladies are present because of the sin in the garden.
But the great news is that there is hope for the one who realizes they are a great sinner and that Jesus is a great Savior. Jon Courson writes:

Jesus did not say, “Go to a seminar on overcoming leprosy.” He said, “You need to be clean. You want to be clean. Therefore you will be clean right now.”

Maybe that’s a word for some who are feeling tainted, polluted, affected by some habit, some sin, something that has a grasp on you. At the moment you say from your heart, “I want to be clean,” the Lord will say, “Be thou clean.” Jesus not only spoke a word, but He touched this one who perhaps had not been touched in years due to his disease. So, too, the Lord doesn’t hold His nose and look away from us in disgust. Others might be put off by your sin or irritated with your flaws, but not Jesus. He embraces us.

The result of this healing, like many others, was that word spread, Jesus had many people coming to him, and so he found a need to get away from people as part of his daily practice.
Luke 5:15–16 ESV
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
There is much written about the man being told by Jesus not to tell anyone, and him doing so anyway. Perhaps he thought his public praise of Jesus his healer was kindness and gratitude, but true gratitude and love of Christ is to obey his commands. The irony is that in the gospels, Jesus often told people not to speak about their healing and they did. In the church today, Jesus says to be his witnesses, and many will not. How is that then and now, those touched by Jesus still miss out on the blessings of obedience?
Jesus’ greatest work of healing is not the physical healings, such as we read about this morning. They certainly were spectacular. They showed his power over nature. They were proofs to those who witnessed them, even though many who witnessed his miracles did not believe. The greatest miracle is when a sinner repents. Our great sickness is sin, and Jesus is our only cure.
You may recall when we were in Luke 4, that Jesus angered people in the synagogue when he said this: Luk4.27-30
Luke 4:27–30 ESV
And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
Jesus had just recently talked about how rare it was that a leper was healed, that only one was healed by Elisha. Now he has healed a leper himself, and rather than pointing to simply the physical healing itself, Jesus is pointing to his salvation.
1 Peter 2:24 ESV
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Remember from what I read earlier, that the blood of the bird being sprinkled on the person being pronounced clean foreshadowed the effect of Christ’s blood, which reconciles man to God and makes it possible for the sinner to join the household of faith?
1 John 1:5–10 (ESV)
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
In a moment, we will begin our time of communion together, and as we prepare to do that, I want to continue on this theme of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus.
One of many beautiful pictures of this in scripture is found in Zech3
Zechariah 3 ESV
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. And the angel of the Lord solemnly assured Joshua, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
This is what happens to the one who comes in complete humiliation over their sin. They come to Jesus, like that leper, knowing they are unclean, and they plead with Jesus to make them clean. When this happens, they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. Have you yourself come to that place of realizing your utter hopelessness outside of Christ? Have you had the moment, like this leper, where you understood the only way you even would have a chance is to get in front of Jesus, on your face before his majesty, pleading with him to accept you into his kingdom? I fear too many Christians today have never taken this humble posture. This may be the fault of many false teachers out there, who teach that salvation is something you get, but no humility is needed on your part.
They may teach that if you say this prayer, Jesus has to accept you, but they forget to tell you that in order to have peace with God, you must have unconditional surrender first. You must do it yourself. When Gen. Cornwallis surrendered at the battle of Yorktown, he sent his subordinate to hand his sword to the victors, because he was too proud to go himself. You can’t do that with Jesus, you must come to him on your own, and bow before him, and be humble. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and you are a sinner who has offended him in every way by your cosmic treason against him.
But there is hope! You see, those who come before Jesus with complete humility and shame for their sin he will accept. A broken heart and a contrite spirit, he will not deny. We can imagine how the family of the leper must have rejoiced when he was declared clean. Yet, this does not compare to the rejoicing of heaven when a sinner repents.
Will you put your trust in Christ? For those who are already in Christ, we are about to experience one of the great privileges of being in the church.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more