Leprosy & Sin

The following ‘address’ was delivered by Rev. Paul Dalzell on Sunday 3rd March at Groomsport Presbyterian Church, Leprosy Mission Service.

Mark 1:40-45 Leprosy & Sin

Leprosy is discussed quite often in the Bible. While its definition in modern times is different from biblical times, in some cases the definitions may overlap.

The term “leprosy” (including leper, lepers, leprosy, leprous) occurs 68 times in the Bible—55 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew = tsara’ath) and 13 times in the New Testament (Greek = lepros, lepra). These references to leprosy most likely referred to a variety of infectious skin diseases. The precise meaning of leprosy in both the Old and New Testaments is still in dispute, but it probably included the modern Hansen’s disease, now called Leprosy.

Few of us would think of pain as a gift and yet it is the presence of pain that warns us of danger to our bodies. Leprosy removes feeling and thus those suffering the disease can lose toes and fingers and more. Due to the inability to detect grit in the eye, blindness is a common consequence of leprosy.

Leprosy and its results are gruesome.

Leprosy historically has often been seen as a very vivid illustration of sin. All diseases and illness and sickness are because of what theologians call the fall, because of sin in this world, but it is leprosy which so vividly illustrates this.

In Mark 1:40-45 we note three parts of this story:

Firstly, the man’s request.
Secondly, Jesus’ response.
Thirdly, the man’s testimony.

The Man’s Request

We read: Mark 1:40
A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

I think it’s helpful to note that the man did not say, I want to be healed, rather he came to Jesus, and on his knees begged Jesus, if you are willing, you can make me clean!

Note also it says that he came to Jesus; he actually did something that was forbidden. As he had leprosy he was supposed to stay in isolation. Those with such a disease were excluded from the community and from worship. They were unclean, not just physically unclean but also spiritually unclean, their physical disease meant they could not worship with the people of God. Society shunned them for fear of catching the disease. There were no cures, no hope.

But somehow this man came to believe that there was hope in Jesus. How he came to this conviction we don’t know, but we do know that such was his belief, yes his faith in Jesus, that he risked disobeying the Jewish laws and risked coming to Jesus.

There are at least two important lessons for us in the man’s request.

Firstly, he had faith – he believed that Jesus as well as healing him, could make him clean. That was vital! For this disease, as we’ve noted, not only made him physically unwell, but socially and religiously unclean. He believed Jesus could make him clean, make him whole, heal him and make him acceptable once again.

That’s really the first step we need to take and realise in dealing with the disease of sin. It is Jesus who can make us clean. When we have faith in him, we believe that he can make us clean.

Sin is a struggle, the disease is within us, and like leprosy it can break out and at times be visible for all to see. Some of us are very good with make up, trying to cover over the scars and scabs of sin, but eventually in some situation or other, in temptation or stress the ugliness of sin reveals itself. And even if we are very controlled and cover our sin well, we know it’s there, and it makes unclean, it makes us unable to truly know God and worship him.

It’s a debilitating, disgusting disease.  You have it! I have it! We can attempt at times to live in denial.  We can point out other worse lepers, terrible sinners, but you know you also have it.  The symptoms may not be as bad, or as obvious, but it’s there.

What we need to do is come to Jesus, in faith we say to him, if you are willing you can make me clean.

Like the leper have faith in Jesus’ power.

Secondly in relation to the leper’s request note that he placed himself in submission to the will of the Lord Jesus. “If you are willing.”  No doubt this man desperately wanted to be cured and made clean.  It seems he really believed that Jesus could do it.  But rather than make demands, he placed himself in the hands of Jesus.

From the other gospel stories, we know that Jesus said, whoever comes to me I will never turn away.

That brings us in this story of the leper to our second main point.

Jesus’ Response

Remember this man should have been keeping himself at a distance from other people.  The Lord Jesus could have been angry, that would have been the natural response of anyone to a leper. 

“Get away from me!  What are doing?  Do you not realise that you could give me your awful disease!”

Jesus could have reacted like that, but he didn’t.  He didn’t run away. He didn’t avoid contact.  We read that Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 

Can you imagine the gasps of those around, looking on, “he’s actually touching him” –  I am willing Jesus said, be clean.

In that touch Jesus offered acceptance where only previously there was rejection. He offered love, touching one who was considered untouchable and he showed the man that he had value.

In the Jewish religion anyone who touched something or someone unclean was considered automatically unclean themselves for at least 7 days.  In touching the man Jesus was willing to take his uncleanness and at the same time to make the man clean.

That’s exactly what Jesus has done for those who come to him in faith with their disease of sin.  The truth is he has already touched, he has already reached out, he has already taken the disease of our sin, for he suffered for our sin through his death on the cross. I cannot fully comprehend that great mystery, but Christ died for sinners, taking our sin upon himself on the cross.  And so, he pronounces us clean.

I struggle with something here!  I have come to Jesus, he has taken my sin, I am clean, and yet I continue to sin.

Everyone needs to note that Christians are not perfect!  The disease of sin has been dealt with but the symptoms still at times rear their ugly head.  So much so that some sensitive people may even ask themselves, “am I a Christian at all?” 

But God has promised that when we confess our sins, he forgives and he makes us clean.  He sees us as completely clean, and that’s what counts!

And daily in our lives, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, the symptoms of sin should become less and less.  And what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit, these should become more and more evident, such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Finally The Man’s Testimony

We read in Mark 1:43

43  Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning:  44  “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ 

We don’t know exactly why Jesus gave the man this prohibition, not to tell anyone, though we do see what happened when the man disobeyed.  We read in v45  Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.

As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from  everywhere.

The Lord Jesus wanted the man to go to the priest as required in Jewish law, to offer the correct sacrifices so that he would clearly demonstrate and it would be accepted by the religious authorities that he was clean. Jesus calls this a testimony. It would show that the man was clean.

Thus, not just would the Lord Jesus be declaring him clean, but society also would recognise the change.

Important as it is and essential as it is for us to witness with our lips that Jesus has made us clean from the disease of sin, it is pointless if our family, our neighbours, our work colleagues do not see a difference.  They must see a difference, there needs to be that testimony in our lives.

As Paul told the Christians at Ephesus we also must get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, harsh words and slander, along with every form of malice, spite, hatred, nastiness.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Let others see that Jesus has made you clean.

Three lessons in this leprosy story:

Like the man with leprosy we must come in faith to Jesus.

The Lord Jesus in love and compassion is the only one who can make us clean.

The Lord Jesus expects there to be a real testimony to his cleansing in our lives.

May God so help us for his name’s sake