2009-08-30 (am) Mark 1:40-45 Jesus’ Touch
“Unclean, unclean!” According to the law given by God to Moses, a person who had the symptoms of leprosy was instructed to “wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.”
Such was the fate of the man who fell on his knees at Jesus’ feet. He was an outcast. He was forbidden to live inside the community of believers. He was instructed to present himself in such a way that people would recognise him as a leper and they would be able to avoid him like the plague.
Once declared leprous, an afflicted person was shunned by everyone including family and friends. If you touched a leper, or if a leper touched you, you were unclean, suspected of then also carrying the disease. If after a while no symptoms appeared on you, a priest would examine you, require a sacrifice from you and then, only then would you be declared clean.
A person who contracted leprosy was basically given a living death sentence. Chances of being healed were slim. With it came all the stigma of moral failure. A leprous person was seen as a degenerate, someone who obviously deserved their affliction. Thus, life outside the community was awful. Unable to work, unable to have fellowship, forced to live off the generosity of others. And if you lived in a society that cared more for a cockroach than for a diseased person, your life was pretty much hopeless.
We see this hopelessness in what the man says to Jesus: “If you are willing.” Yes, he knew that Jesus could cure him. But given the treatment he’d received from all other religious leaders, he didn’t expect Jesus to be willing to help.
But he put his faith in God. He allowed a small hope to creep in. He dared to have fellowship with a clean person.
So he came in humility. He came seeking to be cured. He came to the only one who could heal him: Jesus.
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it. The biggest problem with any disease is sin. Disease is a symptom of the deeper underlying condition, sin. Not necessarily a specific sin, it is the sin that entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.
All who are infected with sin are like the leper. All are cast away from the presence of God. There is separation. There is ostracism. There is hopelessness and despair.
Some people try to cover up this condition and declare that there is no such thing. They try to get around it by saying there’s no God. They try to fix it by declaring they’re not really sick. But deep down, except for the most deluded persons, people know that not is all right, and that there must be a way to make things the way they’re supposed to be.
And that way is Christ. That’s why the leper came to him. Do you really know Jesus? Do you really know that he is the messiah? Do you really know that he can heal you? Do you really know that he can take away your sin? Has his reputation reached you like it did for this leper?
Are you willing to come to Jesus to bow before him, to get down on your hands and knees, put your face to the ground and say, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean!”
And I assure you, if you humble yourself, put your faith and trust in Jesus, come to him and ask, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” He will be just as willing to reach his hand out to you, touch you and make you clean.
I don’t think we can really comprehend what Jesus’ touch meant to this man. We don’t know how long he’d been a leper. We don’t know how long he’d been separated from his family, his friends, his community.
Recently, a 17 year old British young man became the youngest person to sail around the world solo. The hardest thing he faced? It wasn’t the broken sails. It wasn’t the storms. It wasn’t the fear of pirates. It was loneliness. Being separated from physical contact. Being alone for days on end-that was hardest.
Now imagine being that alone, but surrounded by people. For some here this morning, it might not sound so strange. Some this morning might feel like they’re all alone in a sea of humanity. No one knows me. No one understands my feelings, no one understands my situation.
Jesus does. Jesus knows exactly what we’re feeling. Jesus knows how alone we might feel. Jesus experienced everything we have experienced in life.
And Jesus is here this morning, in this space, through the powerful presence of His Holy Spirit.
For the leper, Jesus’ touch must have been electric. For everyone watching it was nothing short of amazing! You just didn’t do that. There wasn’t a priest, Levite, Pharisee, leader, expert, anywhere who would have done what Jesus did.
With compassion, Jesus reached out, touched the man and said, “I am willing, be clean!”
You see, in Jesus, we have the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4. “But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done” (Isa. 53:4 NET). Jesus took upon himself sin and its effects. Jesus took on all our diseases. He suffered what we suffer. All without committing sin himself.
Ordinarily, when a leper touched someone else, they made the other person unclean. Here the reverse happens, the unclean becomes clean. The sick becomes healthy.
Jesus doesn’t just sympathise with us. Jesus became us. Jesus walked more than a mile in our shoes. He took all our disease, all our struggles, all our afflictions, all our hopelessness, all our loneliness, all our sin upon himself. And with compassion, he reaches out to you and to me, and he touches us. Because he is willing, he says, “Be clean.”
And that’s what we are, immediately. Just like that leper, we’re clean. We may not be healed of our diseases, but we are healed of sin, the underlying condition. Otherwise, Romans 8:1 would be a lie, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
If you have bowed before Christ, if you have asked him to make you clean, you are clean!
After healing him, Jesus tells the cured man to go present himself to the priest, fulfil the commandment given by Moses, to offer a sacrifice of two birds. One bird was killed and the blood drained from it. Blood from that bird was put on the man’s right ear (symbolising God’s Word), his right thumb (God’s work) and his right big toe (symbolising God’s walk).
The living bird was dipped in the blood of the dead bird. Then the blood was sprinkled on the healed person seven times. The priest pronounced the healed person clean, and then he released the living bird in an open field.
Had the man obeyed Jesus’ command, he would have been restored to a proper position in society. He would have given testimony to the priests in Jerusalem about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Alas, he was unable to contain his excitement, and he told everyone about Jesus, so that Jesus’ ministry was greatly hindered.
Strangely, it would appear, from my life anyway, that the opposite is true today. How often do we hear about people who go around telling others about what Jesus has done for them?
When was the last time you told someone, a friend, neighbour, co-worker, fellow student, about what Jesus has done for you?
If someone were to ask you, what has Jesus done for you, what would you say? Would you say, “Jesus fully paid for all my sins on the cross, in taking away my sins, he gave me his righteousness instead, now I’m no longer separated from God, but rather am made forever right with him.”
That’s it! That’s the good news! It’s not about what we have to do, it is about what Jesus has done already.
It’s not “what would Jesus do”, it’s what DID Jesus do? He took on our diseases, our infirmities, and he brought healing. All we have to do is hope, believe and trust.
The leper told everyone he met what Jesus did. Mark wrote this stuff down. When this gospel was published, there were still people alive to corroborate this story. “Oh yeah, I remember that! This guy, this leper comes up to Jesus, and as he came he shouted “unclean! Unclean!” But as he got closer, his voice became quieter and quieter. Until he was standing right before Jesus, whispering, “unclean.” Then he knelt down, put his face to the ground in reverence and said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
I so remember that. I remember being shocked that Jesus touched him. Did you see it? Do you remember that? Amazing love! Totally made new, in just an instant, just that fast, Jesus made this guy totally pure, totally healed. And after that, well after that Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without a crowd. Dude, it was an amazing sight to behold!
Come, congregation, let’s start inviting the lepers to church. Let’s invite them here to meet Jesus. Jesus is here you know! We have to get over ourselves. We have to be willing to go out to those who are cast aside by society. We can’t just pick and choose the ones we think are good enough. We have to see with Jesus’ eyes.
It will be messy. We’re going to have all kinds of people who are different from us. We’re going to see people who don’t know what’s going on, people who won’t fit in. But it will be exciting! For we’ll see lives transformed, not by human rules and regulations, but by the healing, cleansing power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who makes us whiter than snow! Amen.