The Cleansing of the Leper
The events that occurred in the life of Jesus were recorded by the gospel writers as actual historical happenings. But there is more to them than just that. In all of His deeds and attitudes, Jesus serves as our perfect example--He wants us to follow in His steps. Also, the kind of life that He lived helps to confirm our faith in Him as God's divine Son.
Thus, there are important lessons for us to learn not only from the things that Jesus said but also from the things that Jesus did. Some of the most noteworthy works of Jesus were the miracles, wonders, or signs which He performed. One of those miracles, the cleansing of a leper, is found in Mark 1:40-42. This is not the only time that Jesus cleansed lepers, but it's one of the first. What are some lessons that we can learn from this story?
It shows that Jesus is the Son of God
“Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’” Why did this leper come to Jesus and ask the Lord to make Him clean? He obviously thought that Jesus had the ability, but he just was not sure if Jesus were willing. But why did he think that Jesus was able? He must have heard about some of the other miracles that Jesus had done. For instance, not long before this, in Mark 1:34, it is said of Jesus, “Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him.”
We do not know precisely what the leper believed about Jesus, other than that He was able to heal, but others understood that the miracles of Jesus served to identify Him as having come from God. In John 3.1-2, we read, “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’” Nicodemus hear about the miracles of Jesus and got the point.
In fact, Jesus Himself appealed to His miracles to confirm His claim to be the Messiah (see John 10.37-38). So do the New Testament writers and preachers (see John 20.30-31, Acts 2.22). The working of miracles, in and of itself, does not necessarily prove that one is the Son of God, but it does prove that one's message is from God. Therefore, the miracles of Jesus, including this one, serve to prove His claim to be the divine Son of God (note John 4:25-26).
It shows that Jesus had compassion
“Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’” (v. 41). The writer says that Jesus was moved with compassion. While the primary purpose of all of Jesus's miracles was evidential in nature, His miracles of healing also demonstrate His compassion upon those who are suffering. Jesus was surely a person characterized by compassion.
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest'” (Matthew 9.35-38). While the Bible is clear that the main focus of Christ's compassion is in the salvation of our souls from our sins, as we shall see in our next point, this example and others like it also emphasize that Jesus cares for us in all our trials and tribulations.
The inspired apostle Peter wrote, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5.7). And the Scottish hymn writer Horatius Bonar wrote:
Yes, for me, for me He careth
With a brother’s tender care;
Yes with me, with me He shareth
Every burden, every fear.
Yes, o’er me, o’er me He watcheth,
Ceaseless watcheth, night and day;
Yes, e’en me, e’en me He snatcheth
From the perils of the way.
Jesus was moved with compassion upon this leper. Thus, we can know that He has compassion for all our needs.
It shows that Jesus can save
“As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (v. 42). Jesus cleansed the leper. Leprosy is often thought of as a symbol of sin. Thus, the fact that Jesus was able to cleanse leprosy is indicative of the fact that He has the power to save us from our sin. In fact, we read in Matthew 8.16-17, “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses.’”
Those who believe in the “abundant life doctrine” with its claim of miraculous healing today often misinterpret this statement to mean that Jesus still intends to heal all believers of their sicknesses. As we have seen, it is true that Jesus cares for us in our illnesses, but the original intent of the prophecy is clear, that Jesus took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses in the sense that made atonement for our sins, and that this spiritual healing would be prefigured by His physical healings. Note also the relationship expressed between the power to forgive sins and the power to heal in another of Christ’s miracles recorded in Matthew 9:1-8.
Of course, the fact that Jesus saves from sin is emphasized throughout the scriptures. Following His birth, the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2.11). Jesus Himself said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10). And the apostle Paul wrote, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1.15). Just as Jesus cleansed this leper from his leprosy, He can and will cleanse us from our sins if we just come to Him.
The incident recorded in this passage then teaches that we can accept as the Son of God and Savior of the world based upon the miracles that He did, and we can know has compassion upon us. The question then is how do we come to Jesus for His cleansing from sin? Think about Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the apostle Paul. What was he told to do to wash away his sins? “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22.16).
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 22.3; March 2015