Leprosy and Uncleanness
Leprosy in the Bible is used to refer to any number of skin diseases. We aren’t told exactly what sort of condition this man is in. but it seems like it was very likely a severe form since in Luke’s Gospel account he describes him as a man “covered with leprosy” (Luke 5:12). At this point in time, perhaps years into the disease, the man’s body was likely covered with sores, scabs, and rotting flesh.
As bad as the disease itself was, even more difficult for this man would have been the implications that being declared “unclean” had for him in society and in worship. Once this man was declared “unclean” by the priest, he was cut off from society, required to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” wherever he went, and forced to live alone outside of the confines of the community (Leviticus 13:45-46). Additionally, he was cut off from worship in the temple with God’s people. It is for this reason that what he most wants from Jesus is not merely for Jesus to heal him of his disease, but to “make [him] clean” (verse 2).
In his complete desperation to be made well, the man somehow makes his way through the crowd to Jesus, likely provoking ridicule and disdain from the onlookers. In contrast with the father in Mark 9:22-23 who questions Jesus’ ability (i,.e., “if you can do anything”), the leper is completely convinced of Jesus’ power (i.e., “you can make me clean”). The only question he has, and understandably so, is whether it is within Jesus’ will to heal a leper. The leper knows that Jesus is able, but also acknowledges that He must will it.
Jesus’ Power and Instructions
In response to the leper’s plea, Jesus “stretched out His hand and touched him” (v. 3). It would have been appalling enough to the crowds for this leprous man to get so close to Jesus, but it would have been far more unthinkable for Jesus to actually put his hand on this unclean man. When Jesus wills the man to be made clean, he is immediately cured. What a scene that must have been to witness—at the simple command and will of Jesus, the ruined flesh of the leper is immediately restored.
Jesus instructs the cleansed man not to tell anyone, since that would only further incite the mobs to want to make Jesus king immediately. Rather, he should go to the temple as Moses commanded and present the required offering. In declaring this man clean, indisputable testimony would be presented to the priest as to Jesus’ power to do what no one has ever done—cleanse a leper. The leaders in Jerusalem would be forced further toward a decision: would they submit to the Son of God, or continue denying the evidence and reject Him?
- This miracle teaches us something about the usefulness of felt weakness. It was the awareness of his desperate need, perhaps after trying all sorts of other supposed remedies, that drove the leper to Christ. Feeling our weakness and need is of great usefulness because it compels us to go to Christ and live in more continual reliance on His mercy. How do you view your weaknesses? Are you making good use of them?
- The leper’s approach to Jesus also teaches us the importance of both confidence and submission in prayer. The leper comes confident in Jesus’ absolute ability to grant his request, but humbly submitting to His will. This same confident submission should characterize our prayers as well. We believe that God is able to give us our request and will give us what is good as a result of our request. But we also recognize that what we think is good may not be best, and we rest in His gracious and sovereign care for His people.
- We also see in this miracle the compassionate power of Jesus. He could have cleansed the man with a mere word, but instead, he touches him. Mark tells us that as Jesus stretched out His hand, he was “Moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41; c.f. Matthew 9:36; 15:32; 20:34; 7:13). Jesus shows compassionate concern for this man who had not known a touch of care, acceptance, sympathy, or compassion in years. He continues to be the same compassionate Savior today. Do you think often about the compassion of Jesus? How does it affect the way you draw near to Him? How does it affect the way you treat others?
- The miracle is also an example of Jesus’ willingness to save every sinner that comes to Him with a sincere desire to be made clean (c.f., Matthew 11:28; John 6:37; Isaiah 55:1). Have you come to Jesus in faith to be cleansed of your sin?