The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 232)

Leprosy of the Soul

I“And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 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.’ 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.”
(Mark 1:40-45)

Many in our midst would have encountered someone with terminal illness but few have met individuals stricken with leprosy. The Leprosy Ordinance in Singapore mandates that those with infectious leprosy must be quarantined from the rest of society.

In Lev 13-14, God gave specific instructions to the Jews on how to deal with those stricken with leprosy because of ceremonial uncleanness when exposed to lepers. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, there was no cure for leprosy and it was the leper’s responsibility to avoid contact with other healthy Jews. Lepers were barred from entering walled cities; they were taken away from their families and forced to live outside the city; they were not allowed to take part in Temple worship and their only companions would be other lepers.

No Jew would ever touch another leper for fear of being made unclean and therefore deprived of the privileges of being a Jew. That was why the leper in this passage asked to be cleansed as well as healed of his leprosy. Leprosy is caused by bacteria known as Mycobacterium Leprae and our fear of leprosy today is not the same as in biblical times because we now have ways to kill the bacteria. However, while the medications can kill the bacteria, medical science is not able to restore body parts destroyed by the disease. But when Jesus healed lepers, He did not just get rid of the bacteria, He also restored the body parts damaged by the disease.

Parallel between Leprosy and Sin
There were many bacterial and parasitic infections during biblical times but God gave specific instructions regarding leprosy because it was a metaphor of the effects of sin on humans. Leprosy damages the nerves, skin, soft tissues and hair resulting in loss of eyebrows, collapse of the nose, discolouration of the skin and hair. Damaged nerves cause a loss of the pain sensation which makes lepers prone to injuries from doing simple daily chores unknowingly. So, many lepers have missing fingers, toes, and other body parts arising from accidents and burns. Leprosy, essentially, disfigures a person.

Leprosy illustrates the damage wrought by sin to our soul. Unrepentant sinners suppress the work of the conscience and soon the conscience is hardened and does not function effectively, like nerves damaged by leprosy. Leprosy penetrates deeply and damages the body. The plaque of sin likewise, can infect every part of our human nature, heart, will, conscience, understanding, memory and affection. Sin makes us disgusting and unfit for the company of God and the glory of heaven. Leprosy isolates lepers from the rest of society and sin does the same for sinners and hinders our worship of God and our fellowship with God’s people. The Jews viewed lepers as suffering from the judgment of God for sins they had committed. In Num 12, when Miriam and Aaron challenged the authority of Moses, God afflicted Miriam with leprosy. Again in 2 Chron 26:19, when King Uzziah became proud and tried to usurp the function of the priests, God struck him with leprosy even though he had started off as a good king who pleased the Lord.

The Power and Compassion of Christ
The miserable leper came to Jesus on his knees begging to be made clean. He may have heard about the miracles Jesus did during His ministry in Galilee. He did not doubt that Jesus was able to heal him but wondered whether Jesus was willing. There would have been lots of murmuring amongst the Jews as they expressed disapproval that this leper had the audacity to come in among normal Jews and risk infecting them all. The response of Jesus must also have been shocking to the leper, other witnesses and even the Lord’s own disciples. Jesus was moved with compassion for the leper and He stretched out His hands and touched the leper. He declared that He was willing and commanded the leper to be cleansed and the healing took place immediately.

Jesus could have healed the man by His command but He chose to stretch out His hands to touch the leper, breaking all Jewish protocol for handling leprosy. Mark deliberately records that Jesus did it out of compassion. Such is the wonderful demonstration of the love and compassion of our Saviour. The leper may not have experienced human touch in a long time and Jesus did not just heal him but deliberately touched him. He may even have thought that God did not care or love him since God was the One who commanded the Jews to cast all lepers outside the city. Did he question God’s fairness as he must have known of other Jews who had sinned, perhaps more grievously, and yet were not suffering from leprosy? Did God hate all lepers since He did not allow them to enter the Temple to worship? Even today, many Christians when stricken with terminal illness or losses in their lives ask if God still cared for them.

Jesus is not a reluctant Saviour but merciful to all who seek after Him. He could have easily healed the leper by His Word just as He healed the centurion’s servant from a distance. But by touching the leper, Jesus was demonstrating that He understood and identified with what the leper was going through when afflicted with leprosy. He was not only willing but He had absolute authority over the leprosy. If Jesus was willing but did not have the power, then His willingness would mean nothing to the leper. In the Luke 5 account, the man was described as full of leprosy indicating that the leprosy was fully established and likely to have resulted in severe and disfiguring damage to his body.

When Jesus healed him, it would have resulted in his eyebrows growing back, his collapsed nose reformed and his missing fingers, toes and body parts miraculously replaced and any skin discolouration disappearing. Otherwise, the crowd observing the incident would not have known the leprosy had left the man. The damage to his physical body caused by leprosy was reversed immediately and not just the bacteria disappearing. There was no need for a period of recuperation or rest but Jesus immediately sent him away because he was already back to normal fitness. Jesus had authority over leprosy, and He was not contaminated by the disease. Likewise, when Jesus took our sins upon Himself, He was not stained by our sins.

The Significance of Jesus’ Instructions to the Leper
After the leper was healed, Jesus prohibited him from telling others about the miracle but told him to present himself to the priests at the temple and fulfil all that Moses had commanded. The Lord’s primary purpose on earth was to proclaim the Gospel and the miracles were secondary and supportive. He did not want people to seek Him only for the physical cure. The leper disobeyed and might have reasoned that no possible harm could come from his public testimony since there were already many who had witnessed the miracle. After all, such a miracle would surely declare that Jesus was the Messiah, and authenticate His ministry as the Son of God.

Jesus commanded the leper to present himself before the priests in accordance with the Levitical laws for one healed of leprosy, with the offering of the sacrifice for sin and guilt offering. This was necessary before the man could be allowed to return to the community without any restrictions because the leprosy had been cured. It would also testify to the priests that a miracle had taken place as the man did not have any visible stigmata of leprosy on him. The priests and religious leaders had rejected Jesus’ ministry and the healed leper would be a condemnation of their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

V. 45b shows the impact of the leper’s disobedience – it resulted in the Lord’s ministry being hampered; He could no longer openly enter the city without being overwhelmed by crowds seeking a cure for their illnesses. It is a reminder to us that God’s work must be done in God’s way and timing, and should not be dictated by our intentions, no matter how noble they may be. The leper disobeyed the Lord’s instructions and hindered the Gospel. When Christians disobey God’s commandment, we could hamper the witness of the Gospel to our relatives and friends. Jesus expects His people to obey Him when they have been healed of their spiritual leprosy. Christians cannot give the excuse that obedience to God’s moral laws is unimportant since Jesus instructed this leper to fulfil that which Moses had commanded.

The presentation of the leper to the temple priests was to enable him to be restored back to the community. Similarly, when sinners are saved from their sins, they are healed from spiritual leprosy. They are restored into a right relationship with God and with the family of God. Often, we continue to carry the burden of our sins even though God has already forgiven us. When a person has repented and is saved, he is immediately made whole again before God, just like the damaged parts of the leper’s body. The Christian would desire to be a part of the local church just as the leper would desire to be a part of the Jewish community. It would be unthinkable for the healed leper to continue living in isolation outside the city wall. He would want to be reunited with his family and friends within the city.

Leprosy is a metaphor of what sin does to the soul spiritually. Christians were once spiritual lepers, forbidden to enter the presence of God and barred from the worship of the Holy God. In v. 45, Jesus exchanged places with the leper, who after being healed from his leprosy was allowed to enter into the city while Jesus was outside in deserted places like an outcast. This reminds us of Calvary when Jesus took upon Himself our sins so that we might be forgiven and made whole again. He has cured us from the leprosy of sin.

Tan Chee Eng

- Tan Chee Eng is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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