Trading Places With A Leper- Leprosy And Sin Mark 1:40-45

The Gospel According to Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jesus heals and outcast leper, then He becomes the outcast.

Last Sunday morning in our journey through the Gospel according to Mark, we looked at Mark 1: 29-39 as we looked at The Heart of the Healer. To begin with we saw The Heart of the Healer- towards Peter’s Mother-In-Law, as He healed her of a high fever. Moving forward we saw from Peter’s mother-in-law The Grateful Heart of the Healed, as she responded to Jesus’s healing of her with a heart of gratitude and a desire to faithfully serve Him. This is something we need to pattern ourselves, as we have all been touched by the Masters Hand and need to faithfully serve Him from a heart of gratitude. Next in Jesus, we watched His heart of compassion and love in The Healings At Night. His unselfish heart was always on full display. We closed out last weeks message by observing Jesus seeking the will of the Father in The Pre-Dawn Prayer. Jesus understood that accomplishing good things was not enough, His only desire was to do the will of the Father, Who sent Him. This should be our desire as well and as a result, we need to follow Jesus lead and continually seek the Face of the Father in prayer.
This brings us to this morning’s passage where we will look at the account of Jesus cleansing a leper. Will you please stand for the reading of God’s Word? Next Slide
Mark 1:40–45 ESV
40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
There are really two main themes of the Gospel According to Mark, the first, which covers the vast majority of the Gospel, is Service. The second is that of Sacrifice, which is how the Gospel closes. With the theme of Service, this book is preeminently a book of miracles. In fact there are more miracles recorded in the Book of Mark than there are sermons.
This does not mean that Mark is not a book of teaching, because all of the miracles in Mark were parables that visibly portrayed the effects of His work among man. For instance;
His healing of the blind portrays how He brings light into a darkened heart.
His calming of the storm give a beautiful picture of how He brings peace to troubled hearts.
When He rose the dead to life, it proclaimed His life giving power.
And in feeding the multitudes we get a vivd picture of Jesus as the Bread of life.
Truthfully, Mark is a book of deep spiritual teaching.
With this in mind, the question would be, what would Jesus cleansing of a leper represent? Theologians equate the cleansing of leprosy as especially symbolic of how Jesus has the power to cleanse from sin. Though a leper was no worse a sinner than the next individual, he was, nevertheless a parable of sin—an “outward visible sign of innermost spiritual corruption.” (Richard Chenvix Trench-Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord-Baker publishing, pg. 135)
Let’s take a few minutes this morning and look at this disease of Leprosy. Leprosy was a terrible skin disease that had no cure. It was a communicable disease that could spread both through touch and also through the air. As a result lepers were considered outcasts, not even allowed to be in walled cities like Jerusalem. While the leper could be in other small towns, they had to wear the clothes of a mourner and were not permitted to wear head-coverings as the head and face was one of the first places the disease showed. Once they were diagnosed the leper had to shout “Unclean, unclean” anytime they were out and about. Many times they lived in leprosy colonies in order to protect their families and loved ones and the rest of society from getting the disease. It was an especially grievous disease because the leper was not just affected physically but the suffering was compounded by the social isolation.
John MacArthur writes “leprosy usually begins with pain and is followed by numbness as the disease progressively attacks the nervous system. The skin in those areas loses its color, becoming scaly and thick, and eventually turns into sores. The effects are especially noticeable on the face, where eyebrows and lashes fall out while the skin swells and bunches up, especially around the eyes and ears. The disease also causes those it infects to emit a foul odor, making leprosy repulsive both to the sight and to the smell (cf. William Hendriksen, The Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew, New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1973], 388). It is little wonder that it was one of the most dreaded diseases of the ancient world.
Since leprosy numbs its victims, making them incapable of feeling pain, they unintentionally destroy their own tissue because they are unable to feel the damage they are doing.” MacArthur, J. (2015). Mark 1–8 (p. 88). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
There is a whole lot more I could tell you about this disease, but this is leprosy in a nutshell.
In looking at Mark 1:40-45, we see several key characteristics in individuals in these verses. We see the characteristic of great boldness, of great faith, of great compassion, of great power, of a command to be silent and of a man who just couldn’t keep silent about what Jesus did for him.
To begin with this morning, we will look at: Next Slide
The Characteristic of Great Boldness. Mark 1:40; Mt. 8:2; Luke 5:12
According to the Talmud, the closest a leper could come to someone without the disease was 6 feet, if it was a windy day that distance was increased to 150 feet. As you can see from the Talmud, it was unacceptable for a man with leprosy to approach anyone who did not have this deadly disease, yet we see this man getting close enough to Jesus that he could kneel before Him and beg for cleansing.
By the way, that brings us to a side-note that is key, you will notice that anytime someone is cured of leprosy, you don’t see the word “healed” used. Only the word “cleansed”. That goes back to what was said earlier on how leprosy was symbolic for sin, and just as a person is not “healed” from sin but “cleansed”, the same holds true in relation to leprosy. Keep these thoughts in mind, later on we will look at some of the specific ways the symbolism of leprosy to sin equate to specific areas, or perhaps more specifically the dangerous path sin can take in our lives if we are not careful.
Back to the boldness of the leper in the Biblical account we are looking at this morning. Here this leper is violating specific written law from the Talmud to approach Jesus. As mentioned earlier, this leper was supposed to shout from a distance “Unclean, Unclean” but instead he approached the Master and pleaded for cleansing.
Which brings us to the next characteristic we see in these verses: Next Slide
The Characteristic of Great Faith. Mark 1:40; Mt. 8:2; Luke 5:12
This leper had no doubt heard of all that Jesus had done and in his heart he knew Jesus could make him clean. Which is actually pretty interesting, because historically up to this point in time, there is no record of Jesus cleansing a leper. That does not mean He didn’t, but this is the first recorded example. Still this leper had faith that Jesus could cleanse him. Something else we want to remember when we think of being cleansed of leprosy, this meant this leper knew that Jesus could give him his life back. Jesus could put his family back together. This man was a broken man with great faith, and on this day he knelt before One Who was absolutely worthy of his faith. He knelt before the Master, but not just any master.
Which brings us to the next characteristic we see in this mornings passage: Next Slide
The Characteristic of Great Compassion. Mark 1:41; Mt. 8:3; Luke 5:13
He knelt before the Master Who loved, Who had understanding, Who had empathy, & Who had compassion. Today he knelt before a Master Who not only had all of these traits, but also was One Who came not to be served, but to serve. That’s kind of an oxymoron, a Master Who serves, especially when you consider this Master, is the God of the Universe! The other marvelous thought to consider is that beyond those great characteristics of love, understanding, empathy and compassion that we see in Jesus is, this He had something else that was very important to the reality of what we read this morning, which brings us to to the next characteristic in these verses; Next Slide
The Characteristic of Great Power. Mark 1:42; Mt. 8:3; Luke 5:13
It is one thing to be someone who is marked by great love, understanding, empathy and compassion. It is another thing entirely to be able to do something about it. If you are anything like me, there have been countless times where you have been made aware of an individual who had a great need. As you watched or listened to the need, inside of you burned an intense desire to meet the individuals need. The problem was, it was impossible to for you to do so. It could have been a lack of funds, maybe they were too far away, maybe you didn’t have the right skillset, or perhaps you didn’t quite have the power or strength. The point is, you certainly had the desire, but desire means very little if you lack the capabilities. Well when it came to Jesus, that was not a problem, you see Jesus had everything He needed, including unparalleled power, and when you combine unparalleled power with all of those characteristics, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.
Do the words “Be clean” mean anything to you? They did to this leper! These words meant he was given his life back, they meant he was given his family back, he was given back the ability to go to the temple, socialize with others that didn’t have this deadly disease, it likely meant he was given his livelihood back, and something some of us can relate to like never before as we travel through this pandemic, he was given back the ability to touch people. One of the things I have struggled with a lot during this time we are in, is not being able to physically touch people when I see them as I am out and about. Well what we are experiencing to a minimal degree right now, was a way of life for this leper. Only for him it also meant he could not physically touch his family, couldn’t hold his wife’s hand as they walked because he couldn’t even walk with her, couldn’t sit in a chair and have one of his children crawl up on his lap to be read a story. Yes, the words “Be clean” had significant meaning to this man.
Jesus had the power to make a difference in this mans life, and in turn the lives of many others as a result. This brings us to the next thing we see in this mornings passage;
Next Slide
The Command To Be Silent. Mark 1:44; Mt. 8:4; Luke 5:14
After Jesus cleansed this leper He commanded him to tell no one. For Jesus, there was still so much that needed to be done in that area, and if people found out about the cleansing of the leper, the crowds would limit His ability to minister there, which would especially affect His ability to preach in the synagogues in the towns and cities throughout Galilee. To be honest, His purpose in coming was not to heal, not to raise the dead, cleanse lepers or any of those physical miracles. His purpose in coming was to preach the Good News. But in the mind of the cleansed leper, how do you keep something like this secret?
And this brings us to the next thing in this mornings passage; Next Slide
The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Silenced. Mark 1:45; Luke 5:15
I mean you would think that silence in this case would be close to impossible. How do you not tell others about the One Who gave you your life back? Gave you the ability to see your family, hold your wife's hand, have your children climb up on your lap for story time? It’s not like you can hide a thing like being cleansed from leprosy! How do you keep silent about the One Who worked an incredible miracle in your life? The restored man decided not to be silent about what Jesus had done for him.
As I read and think about this account, I wonder, were we not just like this leper in a spiritual sense? Were we not spiritually unclean and headed for eternal torment? When we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we were declared spiritually clean. In many ways Jesus reached into to filth of our world, touched us with His blood stained Hand and said “Be clean!” The big difference between us and this leper is, we were commanded not to be silent, we were commanded to declare what Jesus did for us everywhere. Unfortunately for far to many of us, we followed the lead of this leper, and decided to ignore the command of the Master.
Jesus commanded the leper to be silent because in speaking out, the leper inhibited Jesus ability to proclaim the Good News in the towns and citied in Galilee. He has commanded us to proclaim that same good news everywhere we go. While the leper inhibited the proclamation of the Good News, we have the ability to enhance the proclamation of the Good News. We absolutely cannot remain silent. Eternity is at stake for people we know and love if we ignore the command of the Master. Next Slide
Leprosy And Sin.
I mentioned earlier in the message this morning that we would revisit some of the specific ways the symbolism of leprosy to sin equate to specific areas, or perhaps more specifically the dangerous path sin can take in our lives if we are not careful. Right now, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss this as it is very relevant to us today.
R. Kent Hughes in his book “Mark-Jesus, Servant and Savior” writes the following; “The Nature of leprosy, with its insidious beginnings, it’s slow progress, it’s destructive power, and the ultimate ruin it brings, makes a powerful symbol of moral depravity. If we see ourselves with spiritual eyes, we see that apart from the work of Christ we would be decaying forms of walking dead.”
Research has now established that the disfigurement associated with this disease are not technically the result of the disease. In other words leprosy does not cause fingers to fall off, the lepers ears do not disappear because of the disease. What happens is the disease acts as an anesthetic, bringing numbness to the extremities as well as the the ears, eyes and nose. People literally use all feeling. For you and me, pain is a warning system that let’s us know we need to change what we are doing. When you feel no pain, you loose that warning system. But, as R. Kent Hughes points out in his book, this disease has a slow beginning. The leper isn’t instantly numb, it happens gradually and before long the leper can reach their hand in a fire to retrieve something and not even notice the flesh melting like a piece of plastic. They can wash their face in scolding water and not even know it or grip a tool so tightly that their hands become traumatized and eventually fingers literally fall off.
The spiritual reality for all of us is that we are spiritual lepers! This is what the image of leprosy is meant to teach us. Similar to leprosy, often times our numbness to the progression of sin in our lives, brings about great spiritual destruction to the point that before long we don’t even consider what we are doing sin. It is just a choice. Maybe in our minds we rationalize that what we are doing only affects ourselves or our own bodies.
R. Kent Hughes writes “Sin controls people with two exactly opposite lies. The first is, as we have already seen, that they are not sinners—that nothing is wrong with them. The second is that when they do see they are sinners, they think they are so bad that they are beyond help.”
This could have easily have been what the leper in this mornings passage felt, that he was beyond help. In the Gospel of Luke, this same account of the cleansed leper declares that this man was full of leprosy. In other words he had had it for years. Was likely missing fingers, probably his nose and or ears. His hair had fallen out and his body covered with sores and white patches everywhere. Yet still he approached Jesus and said; “If You will, You can make me clean.”
We now know the rest of the story, Jesus was willing, and the man was made clean.
I love the description R. Kent Hughes gives of what took place when he writes; “Now came the miracle. In describing it Mark uses his favorite word (vs. 42): ‘Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured’. The healing was sudden and complete. His feet—toeless, ulcerated stubs—were suddenly whole, bursting his shrunken sandals. The knobs of his hands grew fingers before his very eyes. Back came his hair, eyebrows, eyelashes. Under his hair were ears and before him a nose! His skin was supple and soft. Can you hear a thundering roar from the multitudes? Can you hear the man crying not, ‘Unclean! Unclean!,’ but ‘I’m clean! I’m clean!Next Slide
Trading Places. Mark 1:45; Luke 5:15
Jesus accomplishes this by doing the very thing he did with the leper in this morning passage. He trades places with us. We read at the end of verse 45 that Jesus now had to move out to the desolate places. That is where the leper used to dwell, the desolate places. In cleansing the leper, the leper was now able to dwell in the cities, Jesus had to minister in the desolate areas. That is what He has done with us also. He cleanses us by trading places with us. He takes our sin, our spiritual leprosy upon Himself. Our filth, our uncleanliness is laid upon Him.
Jesus can make you clean also. Turn away from your spiritual numbness to sin, turn your back on any thought you may have that you are beyond the power of Jesus forgiveness. Turn to the Savior, Who loves curing the spiritual leper!
Let’s close in prayer
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