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Tuesday
Mar122019

Touching the Untouchable

Mark 1:40-45.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 10, 2019.

Today’s passage deals with a man who has leprosy.  In the Bible leprosy can be connected to a similar disease today called Hansen’s Disease.  However, it is clear that the Bible uses this term for far more than what would be considered Hansen’s Disease.  It was more of an umbrella term that was used to describe a range of skin problems, and even molds and mildew on stone or wood.  The man in our story appears to have a skin problem.  How bad his case is and how long he has had it we do not know.  This much we do know.  In the ancient world, the only answer for leprosy was a miracle.  Short of a miracle, a person was doomed to a life of being ostracized from society.  Lepers had to live outside and away from the dwelling places of the uninfected and they had to warn people if they approached.

This in and of itself would be bad enough, but then we must add the human element.  Humans added to the difficulty of lepers by showing little to no compassion.  Self-preservation was the order of the day and it was often laced with a derogatory hostility.  They were often seen as deserving of a punishment from God.  It is true that the Bible records some situations where a person who was rebelling against God came down with leprosy as a punishment.  However, this does not mean that every case is the result of judgment.  In general sin is in the world because humanity is fallen.  It is a result of the general sinful condition of mankind.  Though God can direct disease as a primary force, He typically allows proximity, DNA, and chance take its course.  Though we may wish God would protect everyone, or at least children and the helpless, etc., He has a plan to make us like Him.  If we are protected from the results of our fallen nature then we will never grow to become like Him.  The first reaction of Christians to disease should be the same compassion that we see in Jesus in this passage and the attempt to do for them what we can, both physically and spiritually.

An Untouchable approaches Jesus

The event begins in verse 40 and happens somewhere outside of a city because none is mentioned and lepers were very limited in where they could go.  In Matthew this same story is recorded right after the sermon on the mount, which happens near Jerusalem on the Mt. of Olives.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus is outside Jerusalem, but we cannot know for sure.

People who had contracted leprosy were supposed to keep their distance and shout “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to people.  However, this man knows the reputation of Jesus as a healer and breaks protocol.

He kneels down and implores Jesus to heal him.  Now, kneeling for a person with leprosy can be a dangerous thing.  These diseases typically are caused by bacteria that attack the nerve endings and work their way to the core of the central nervous system.  The lack of feeling is as much responsible for their wounds as any cellular deterioration.  Yet, this is a desperate man.  He pleads with Jesus for help. 

If leprosy symbolizes sin then we should recognize that this man’s knowledge of his own condition, his own helplessness, and just who could help him, is symbolic of the answer to sin.  Only God could help this man wracked by the ravages of a disease.  Only Jesus had given him the hope that something could be done about his condition.  The same is true for us and our own sinful condition.  Without Jesus, we are at the mercy of sin and our selfish flesh.  They drive a wedge between us and the relationships in our lives, making us numb to life, and eventually destroying all hope.  We cannot approach Jesus with proud demands, but if we approach in brokenness and humility, we will find Him gracious and willing to help us.

Let’s analyze the statement the man makes.  First, he states the conditional, “If you are willing.”  This is enlightening.  He knows that God can heal him, but up to this point it hasn’t happened.  When he hears about Jesus, he has hope again, but still doesn’t know if Jesus is anymore willing to heal him.  There are some today who answer this question by saying Jesus is always willing.  If you are sick and come to Jesus, you should always get healed.  If not, then there is something wrong with you not Jesus.  Let’s lay this larger issue aside for a second and recognize in this moment how critical that question is to an individual.  It is often the result of countless hours of beating yourself up with the hopelessness of your situation and the idea that God doesn’t care about you.  Jesus was probably the first time that this man felt any hope that it could happen, but it hinges on the willingness of Jesus.

The second part of his statement is this.  “You can make me clean.”  It states an unwavering belief (faith) that Jesus had the power to heal him.  Of this, he seems to have no doubt.  Now, we have no indication that Jesus has healed other lepers up to this point.  He is the first recorded in the gospels.  However, it is possible because of all the blanket statements that say that Jesus healed all who were brought to him (at a particular instance).  Regardless, he believes.

The word clean is used because biblically the person with leprosy was declared “unclean.”  This was a ceremonial declaration that they could not participate in any temple rituals, whether to offer sacrifice or whatever.  Also, those who were ritually clean could not touch them at risk of becoming ritually impure themselves (note: mere touch could only cause temporary uncleanness, but contracting the disease would create a permanent uncleanness without healing).  So, the use of the term has two meanings.  The man could not be declared clean by the priests unless he was first healed from the disease.  He wants Jesus to heal him so that he can then be declared clean. Once he is clean, he can take his part in the heritage of Israel and go to the temple for worship and sacrifice.  It would open the door of access for him. 

The same is true for us today.  Without Christ, we are still in our sins and shut out from God’s heavenly temple.  Only Jesus can clean us from our sins.  However, even more than that, only Jesus can restore us to a position in which we can participate in the heritage that God has for His people today, that heritage that will take us into eternity, and the new heavens and the new earth.  Christ has not come just to rid us of the bad, but also to restore us to that good thing that we have been missing in our life.  Fellowship with God the Father and the Power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to image the Father to this broken and lost world.

Jesus responds to him

So, let’s look at the response of Jesus to such an approach.  Does Jesus respond with fear and calling for the stoning of such brazen audacity and wanton disregard for scriptural protocol?  I am not exaggerating, because historically certain rabbis have gone on record of responding with such reactions towards those with leprosy.  Of course, Jesus does no such thing.  Verses 41-42 show us a powerful scene of compassion.  We must be careful of brushing over such moments in the Scripture too quickly.  We are told that Jesus is moved with compassion.  The word for compassion speaks of a very deep emotion that comes from the guts.  We often have compassion on people, but typically it is for those who are very close to us, or the compassion is not very deeply felt.  Here is a man who has no connection to Jesus other than to be a fellow Israelite.  Yet, Jesus is moved with deep emotion for this man and his condition.

Do you believe that God is deeply moved by compassion when He looks at the world and its bondage to sin?  We only need to look at the cross and see the suffering of Jesus in order to know that He is deeply touched by our sin.  He does care.  He hasn’t abandoned you.  Put your trust in Him and He will never fail you.  He won’t do everything you tell Him to do, but He will be faithful to you to the very end.

We also see that Jesus was not afraid to touch the man.  There is great significance in this touch because Jesus did not have to touch him in order to affect a healing.  He is powerful enough to just think it and it will happen.  On top of this a person with leprosy were basically like a dead person.  If you touched a person you would be ritually unclean, and even worse, you could contract the disease.  In the case of a dead person, someone from the family has to bury the body.  However, Jesus didn’t have to touch the leper and yet He does.  Put yourself in the sandals of this man.  No one had touched him for years and here is a powerful prophet touching you in the name of Father God.  It must have been powerful.

Here is a brain bender.  Is Jesus ritually impure when He touches the man?  He would be technically.  However, the guy is made clean by the touch.  So, shouldn’t that disqualify the touch as making Jesus unclean?  Of course, I am treating this a problem for priests who are trying to follow the Law of Moses.  It is clear that when the Holy One, the Clean One of God, touches a person, the impurity of the person does not affect Him, but His purity affects the impurity.  That is how powerful the life of Christ is.  For us as humans, we cannot conquer someone else’s disease with our own health.  We can only hope to fight off the disease that they may have and could still succumb to the disease, no matter how healthy we are.  With Christ, this is not so.  The power of Jesus disintegrates the bacteria in every cell that is ravaging this man.  Jesus shows the true purpose of the purity laws.  They are not about walling us off from each other and from God, but rather about turning our eyes towards and connecting with the only One who can truly make us clean!

The man is instantly healed

Jesus was willing to heal the man, O, happy Day!  How those words must have washed over the man.  We are told that the man is instantly healed, which is saying a lot for a disease that would have been ravaging his whole body.  There would not only be destruction of the invading bacteria, but also reconstruction of destroyed cellular tissue. What a powerful healing.  So, what happens next?

Jesus warns the man not to tell anyone.  Of course, the man is extremely excited.  Why would Jesus give such a command?  Doesn’t this run counter to our duty to tell the whole world about Jesus?  Jesus is trying to minister somewhat under the radar of the religious authorities.  He knows that if He “pokes the bear” too much and too quickly then their attempts to kill Him would begin too soon.  God had a particular timing and purpose for the ministry of Jesus.  It is now clear that He needed to minister for 3 ½ years before He was to be killed.

Of course, today we are not under such a command from Jesus, although people sometimes act as if they are.  Jesus continually told His disciples that His death and resurrection would be the turning point for them to go public, declaring Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world.

Jesus also tells him to go and show himself to the priest as a testimony to them.  This was the requirement of the Law of Moses for anyone cured of leprosy.  They had to present themselves to the priests and go through several protocols that would determine whether they were truly healed or not.  Can you imagine what it must have been like at the temple that day?  Keep in mind that it is highly doubtful that the priests had ever had to perform this ritual.  There was probably a frantic scrambling around of priests trying to figure out what to do.  Yet, all of this was to be a testimony to them.  God was moving and there was a God in Israel who was making lepers clean.  Who had ever heard of such a thing (only a couple of times in the Old Testament)?  It was very rare.  The greatest testimony to the world of the power of Jesus is your own life transformed from sin and cleansed to be like Jesus.  None of us are perfect, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in truth and righteousness before the world, and yet, also be compassionate and life-giving.  We don’t have to fear anything, even incurable diseases.  Sure, some people reject the testimony, but some are shocked and believe.  Others may tuck it in the back of their mind and it comes to fruit later.  Regardless, may we be a true testimony of Jesus Christ.

Next, we see that the man didn’t listen to Jesus and tells everybody what He did.  Here we see that even a good thing can be a bad thing if it is not exercised in wisdom.  Thus, we must learn to trust the wisdom of Christ and His representatives, the Apostles, rather than our own mind.  He knows better than us.

I said earlier that they are most likely outside of Jerusalem.  Thus, it is most likely the city that He couldn’t openly enter.  The passage tells us that Jesus goes north to minister in the Galilee region again.

Here we have a story about our broken and rotten condition without God meeting the compassion of God in Jesus.  If you are a believer today then I encourage you to remember that you were such a spiritual leper, being ravaged by sin, before you met Jesus.  He had the compassion to touch you!  He loves you.  However, we must also see ourselves in the place of Jesus.  Ask Christ to build such a deep compassion in you for those who are broken around you, whether they deserve their situation or not.  Pray that you may have such an impact upon the lost.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, then I encourage you to search your heart and see your true condition with Jesus.  You are being ravaged by a spiritual disease of sin that has deeply infected you to the core.  It will isolate you from everyone that you love, and destroy your life one cell at a time, until you are completely destroyed.  However, Jesus loves you and wants to touch you too.  If you will only fall down before Him and ask for His healing touch.  Lord, Jesus heal me of all my sin and make me clean that I may take my place in the heritage that belongs to God’s people, instead of being shut out and excluded.

Untouchables audio