Sunday Sermon: Healing the Unhealable | Mark 1:40–45

Healing the Unhealable | Mark 1:40–45

So, when we read about the leper here, we encounter a man on a desperate mission. Enigmatically, the Law gives a provision for those cleansed of their leprosy, and he’s heard about the healing power of Jesus—though he must enter a populated town and find the Lord. In their encounter, we see the Lord’s heart concerning those suffering, but we also see an image of the sinner coming to Jesus. So, what we see is the Great Physician healing the unhealable. We’re going to see both His compassion as He heals and His command after He heals.




Healing the Unhealable | Mark 1:40–45
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 26 February, 2017

Heavenly Father,
We thank You that You take the wretched and transform us.  I pray that we would see more of Your glory in salvation as we study the text this morning.

I. Introduction
I heard one pastor put it this way.  It’s one of our common fears, to go to the doctor and receive news of an incurable, terminal illness.  We would be stricken with grief, not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones.  Our world has changed for the worse and is about to end.  Even those with a mature faith in Christ would have difficulty digesting such an announcement.

But imagine it’s worse than that.  Men with protective, positive-pressure suits deliver the news to you, and they grab you by the arm before you have a chance to sit.  They usher you out of the doctor’s office, which is now being roped off.  As you are transported past your home to some unknown location, you notice your house is also being cordoned off.  They are carrying your personal belongings in safety bins out your door and loading them in the same vehicles that your confused family are entering.  Danger and quarantine signs adorn your property, and you realize you’ll never return home.

That is a bit of a modern dramatization of what would happen with ancient cases of leprosy.  They feared it with good reason, and the Romans and the Jews knew it to be incurable, deadly, and highly infectious.  Even in 2015, according to the World Health Organization, there were over 176,000 cases with nearly 212,000 new cases.   There is still no 100% cure, although God has graciously allowed us to discover treatment that can limit and even eliminate its spread and impact on the infected (those who report it).

Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease is caused centrally by Mycobacterium leprae and leads to a number of symptoms.  Skin lesions can form on the body, even disfiguring the face of the individual to take on a grotesque appearance similar to a lion.  The nerves in the extremities deaden, so an individual will not be able to feel pain.  In fact, it is because of this that we hear stories of lepers losing body parts, like awakening to find a wayward rat had made a meal of your finger or toe the previous night.  As the disease further infects your body, it may cause a tightening or even loss of the tendons, causing hands and feet to curl.  A loss of eyesight and hearing may also result, and eventually, organ failure.

While the ancients did not have the WHO or CDC, what God revealed in His Word proved effective for identifying and isolating those affected.  Leviticus 13–14 lay out an eight-day examination period for when lesions first appear.  Of course, there are a lot of reasons our skin develops sores, and these examinations would weed out cases of psoriasis, fever blisters, ringworm, or other skin conditions like leukoderma.  If, seven days after the initial examination, the leprosy becomes clear, then the individual is not just diseased, but to be pronounced ceremonially unclean.  Here’s what Leviticus 13:45–46 says: “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

The leper becomes a social outcast for the good of all.  His house is now unclean and vacated, and his clothes are to be burned.  Those he touched should watch for developing sores, and he was required by law to warn everyone else coming close by covering his lip and calling out “Unclean!”  One commentator notes, “According to the Talmud, the closest a leper could come to someone without the disease was six feet.  On windy days, the distance was extended up to 150 feet” (MacArthur, Mark 1–8, 87).  So, to put it another way, not only was the leper condemned to die a slow death, he must do so alone.

So, when we read about the leper here, we encounter a man on a desperate mission.  Enigmatically, the Law gives a provision for those cleansed of their leprosy, and he’s heard about the healing power of Jesus—though he must enter a populated town and find the Lord.  In their encounter, we see the Lord’s heart concerning those suffering, but we also see an image of the sinner coming to Jesus.  So, what we see is the Great Physician healing the unhealable. We’re going to see both His compassion as He heals and His command after He heals.

II. First, note His compassion as He heals (vv. 40–42)
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.

We see that the “leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling.”  Many people beg Jesus, and He will not turn away the humble.  In this case, we see true contrition, and perhaps a bit of desperation.  Matthew 8:2 also says he knelt before Jesus, and Luke 5:12 says, “And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ ”

Since the leper was not supposed to be in the city or near to anyone, perhaps his begging and pleading arose from the anxiety of this gamble, knowing that Jesus might not heal him.  Perhaps he even feared that God had cursed him with this leprosy for sin as He had King Uzziah (2 Chron 26:17–21), and therefore, Jesus would not heal him.

It’s fascinating that the leper begins with the willingness of the Lord.  He approaches in faith that Christ is able, having heard much of what the Lord had already done.  His faith is great (not that Jesus needs that to heal), and he may have even known the biblical significance of a leper being cleansed.  Even so, he seems to understand that this faith and his desire are secondary to Christ’s willingness.

The modern Word-Faith Heresy has this backwards, that our faith guarantees healing.  Proud boasters tell you to declare your healing, to hold it, to believe it, and even to demand it.  We must pray believing, but we must also pray per the will of God.  Those who approach Him because of what they can get from God pray amiss and don’t understand God’s real purpose in history.

This leper comes, perhaps hobbling, clothes torn in mourning, confessing of belief in humility.  Interestingly, the word used here is not that he asked Jesus to heal him—he requested cleansing.  Since a person with leprosy was biblically classified as unclean, this man requests to be transformed into what God would consider clean.

Our Lord responds with deep pity in verse 41.  The word is compassion, and it refers to deep emotions, and emotion felt in the depths of His gut.  Today, we might say something like Jesus was moved all the way to the bottom of His heart.  He sees this man, disfigured with disease and sin, and He’s moved.

The effects of sin on our bodies, producing disease and death, anguishes our Lord.  For example, consider Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus.  John 11:33–36 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ ”

Remember that Jesus could heal the leper with but a word.  He’s moved, though, so He reaches out and touches the leper.  This man would not have been touched by a healthy person since contracting leprosy for fear of transmitting the disease.  In fact, those around Jesus—perhaps angry that a leper would be so close and endanger everyone—they most likely gasped when Jesus reached out His hand to touch this man’s coarse skin.  He didn’t just touch him, but he gripped him (Steve Lawson).

Our Lord takes sin on Himself on the cross.  He won’t be defiled by touching something unclean, which is important.  He doesn’t become less holy or divine as a result.  There’s no transference of sinfulness from Himself into the Trinity.  Just the opposite—He imputes His righteousness to us as He touches us.  This is the true meaning of “by His stripes we are healed”—the sickness of iniquity is removed, just as the sickness of leprosy vanishes from this man.  The emotion is no less real when the compassionate Lord stretches out both His hands on the cross and heals us of our sins.

He doesn’t just heal the man.  The Greek word, katharizo, is actually an aorist passive imperative.  Divine passive.  In other words, it’s a command to be something.  How can Christ command the man to “be clean?”  We see that it is actually Christ Who fulfills the requirement of the command in this man.  He makes Him clean, just like He makes us holy and fit for His service.

In verse 42, note that, when the Lord heals, He heals permanently.  It says, “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”  The man needed no follow-up appointments.  If the man had lost his fingers like so many lepers do, they would have grown back in the moment.  As the people stared, perhaps the man’s missing nose reappeared.  The disease left him supernaturally and without a doubt.  MacArthur writes here,

There was no period of recovery or rehabilitation.  He who had come disfigured, defile, and despicable was instantly transformed into a man in full health, completely cured, and ready to be restored to society. His sores were gone. His limbs were made whole. His skin looked like new. His face was smooth and unscarred. Even in an age of modern medical marvels, nothing can compare to this kind of miraculous healing. Though medical advancements have made it possible to control the symptoms of leprosy, they cannot cure the disease or reverse its effects. Jesus could and he did so instantly (MacArthur, Mark 1–8, 90).

This is how He regenerates us—completely.  He makes our spirits alive.  Whereas we suffered from spiritual leprosy before, completely deadened to the depths of our sinfulness, he restores us.  This is the compassion He has for us.

III. Second, note His command after He heals (vv. 42–45)
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.

What this man now has is new life, and he is receiving his instructions.  Said another way, we started by studying the indicative—what is now true about the leper—and now we’re studying the imperative.  So much of the New Testament follows this formula: we have the statement of our reality in Christ, and then we are told how to proceed on the basis of that reality.  This is a vital truth because it reminds us that Christ must first change us before we can seek to walk according to His ways.

In verse 43, we see that “Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once.”  Luke 5:14 has “commanded,” but here a sense of indignation.  It’s almost as though Jesus growled it.  This was important, and He did not want the man to deviate one iota from the path set before him.  He says in the next verse, “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.”  In other words—go and do what the Bible commands immediately.

The priests were unique.  “The priests of Israel differed from those of other religions, who purportedly knew curative secrets, in that they had no power and could offer no ritual to heal disease.  Israel believed that healing was entirely in the hands of God.  Priests, therefore, simply declared what was clean and unclean” (Garland, Mark, 74).   This man and the priests had to follow what God prescribed in Scripture.

As we noted earlier, God gives instructions for how to deal with a leprous individual in Lv 13–14, but also hope that someone might be able to cure the disease.  Here, we see that this One has come.  While the priest’s testimony would be essential for the leper to reintegrate into society, the testimony seems to be directed to the priests.  They must now know that the Messiah had arrived.

Unfortunately, he disobeyed.  How completely, we cannot be sure.  What Mark says here is that the man began to preach or proclaim this news.  He began to “blaze abroad the matter.”  One can hardly fault his excitement over being cured of the incurable, but it’s a zeal without knowledge.  When the time is right, He will send out His disciples, saying, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Mt 10:27).  Right now, the time isn’t right, and this makes Christ's work more difficult.

First, the people were not yet ready to hear that He was the Messiah.  It would, strangely enough, create far more attention than His healings, which is exactly what happened (v. 45).   Right now, only the priests needed to know.

Second, Jesus was not trying to draw a crowd, not seeking to have people follow Him just because.  He went into villages and into their synagogues to preach the gospel, but such attention makes that impossible.  The amount of excitement this miracle generated marks a new high in attention to Christ’s ministry, which might be why three gospels include this account. Or, perhaps it’s because of the attention he experiences.

Whatever the case, this account is the perfect picture of the gospel.  Whereas the leper began in desolate places by law, now Jesus seeks them out by choice.  In a sense, Jesus and the leper exchange places.  This completes the picture of the cross—we come to Christ to have our sins cleansed, and He changes places with us.  He bears the wrath and humiliation that we deserve.  The providence of God working in the leper’s disobedience, gives us a perfect picture of His grace.  That brings me to the last point.

IV.  Final Thoughts
Those suffering spiritual leprosy must remember two things:

The Lord is compassionate.  God loved us, so He sent His Son to die as our substitute and pay the penalty for our sins (1 Jn 4:10); God is love (v. 16) and first loved us (v. 19).  Jesus touches us and takes the leprosy on Himself, switching places with us because He cares for us.  Do you believe this?

The Lord cleanses.  Just as we are commanded to be as perfect as God (Mt 5:48), and Christ lives the saving life for us (Rm 5:10), this man became clean by the work of God in Him.  Jesus regenerates our lost souls and gives us new life.  Old things are past away, and all things are miraculously new.  Do you believe that the Lord will take you by your leprous hand and heal you?

Once you understand all of this, you are in a better spot to follow the Lord.  Don’t seek to please Him with zeal that lacks knowledge.  If He commands something, dear Christian, don’t think that you know better.  If He says to not love the world, don’t think you can baptize it for Christ.  If He says don’t be unequally yoked, don’t think you’ll evangelize unbelievers in your romantic relationships.  If He says something is a sin, don’t think that it is okay for you.  If you trust the Great Physician for healing, trust His continued prescriptions of the Word.  If you don’t, it may be a sign that you’re still suffering from spiritual leprosy.

Dear Lord,
Thank You for again for the healing we experience from sin.  I pray that those who don’t know it would come to do so this morning.
I also thank You for the healing we will receive in the kingdom.
Until that day, may we follow Your Word.  May we not rationalize it away, but follow Your perfect instruction.

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