We're turning to chapter 1 again of Mark, and beginning to read at verse 40, and it is the account of a leper who the Lord Jesus heals: "And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter".
Verse 41 tells us that Jesus was moved with compassion because of the predicament of this leprous man, and He put forth His hand and touched him. That is very significant, because we know in particular from Mark's gospel that the Lord Jesus delighted in touching needy people. No less than eight times in Mark alone it is recorded that the Lord Jesus touched those who had great needs. Of course, we've already studied one of those, because in this particular chapter when the Lord Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law He took her by the hand, verse 31 says, and raised her up. He touched her by the hand and lifted her. Then we have read this morning how He touches the leper, verse 41. Then when we come to chapter 5, when He heals Jairus' little daughter, we read that He took her by the hand and said, 'Talitha cumi', which means 'Little girl, I say unto you, Get up'. He touched her.
Then when we come to chapter 6 and verse 5, the Lord Jesus has entered His home town of Nazareth, and we read there that He could do no mighty work in Nazareth, save that He laid His hands upon a few sick folk and healed them. Then we find, when He encounters a deaf and dumb man in chapter 7 and verse 33, to heal him it says He took him aside from the multitude and put His fingers into his ears, and He spit and touched his tongue, and then He said 'Ephphatha', and he was healed - but the Lord Jesus touched him in order to heal him.
Later He did a similar thing for a blind man at Bethsaida in chapter 8 and verse 23, we read there: 'He took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought'. Even in the midst of the busy ministry of the Lord Jesus - and we saw that the Lord Jesus was serving morning, noon and night, so much so that He had to rise very early, a great while before day, in order to have time with God - but even in the midst of all that busyness we read that He repeatedly took little children into His arms, touching them, embracing them: chapter 9:36, chapter 10:16. We read: 'He took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them'. Then finally, in Mark's account at least, we see Him raising up a formerly demonised boy - chapter 9 and verse 27: 'Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose'.
Now let me just say that in all of these instances where Jesus touched someone in order to heal them, or deliver them, or bless them, there was no need of Jesus to touch any of them. He didn't need to do it. In fact, we know from other instances that even when geographical barriers of distance were there, the Lord Jesus had only to speak a word and people were healed or delivered, so it was not a necessity that Jesus touched these people in order to make them whole. His word was and is enough. But this is, I believe, the reason why He did touch people physically: He did so simply because He wanted to show that He cared beyond words.
Perhaps there is no incident in the whole of the Bible which more graphically communicates the fact that Jesus' love is beyond words than this incident of the healing of the leprous man. Now why is that? Well, I want us first of all to look at the leper, and then we'll look at the Lord. There are two things that I want you to see regarding the leper, and why this shows more perhaps than any other incident that the Lord cares beyond words.
Two points. First: you need to see and understand the leper's plight, his condition, his circumstances. Now in New Testament times there was no disease regarded with more terror or disgust than that of leprosy. In fact the attitude to leprosy then was almost exactly that to AIDS today in our generation - a mixture of fear that you would contract it, and revulsion of those who have contracted it, or of the symptoms and outcome of the disease. In Jesus' day, anyone who was identified as a leper was reduced personally to a pitiful state of existence in two ways: physically and spiritually.
Now we need to spend a little bit of time on this to understand the significance of what it meant for the Servant of the Lord to touch this man with leprosy. Now let's look physically at what happened to a leper. E.W.G. Masterson, who is quoted by a commentator from his article on leprosy in the Dictionary of Christ in the Gospels, says this - and I'm just quoting verbatim from him because he gives a very detailed account of the types of leprosy that there were. He says: 'No other disease reduces a human being for so many years to so hideous a wreck. Physically there are three kinds of leprosy', he says, 'One: there is nodular or tubercular leprosy'. Here's how he describes it: 'It begins with an unaccountable lethargy, and with unaccountable pains in the joints. Then there appears on the body, especially on the back, symmetrical discoloured patches. On them little nodules form, at first pink, then turning brown. The skin is thickened. The nodules gather, especially in the folds of the cheek, the nose, the lips and the forehead. The whole appearance of the face is changed until the man or woman becomes unlike human, they lose their human appearance and look, as the ancients said, like a lion or a satyr. The nodules grow larger and larger; eventually they ulcerate and from them there comes a foul discharge. The eye-brows fall out; the eyes become staring; the voice becomes hoarse and the breath wheezes because of the ulceration of the vocal chords. The hands and the feet always ulcerate. Slowly the sufferer becomes a mass of ulcerated growths. The average course of the disease is nine years, and it ends in mental decay, coma and ultimately death. The sufferer became utterly repulsive both to himself and to others'.
That is only nodular or tubercular leprosy. Then there is a second that he notes, 'anaesthetic leprosy' it is called. He describes it: 'The initial stages are the same; but in this kind of leprosy the nerve trunks are affected. The infected area loses all sensation. This may happen without the sufferer knowing that it has happened; and he may not realize that it has happened until he suffers some burning or scalding and finds that there is no pain and no feeling whatsoever where pain ought to be. As the disease develops, the injury to the nerves causes discoloured patches and blisters. The muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands become like claws. There is always disfigurement of the finger nails. There ensues chronic ulceration of the feet and of the hands. There comes the progressive loss of fingers and of toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of the disease is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible and progressive death of the body'.
Then there is a third kind of leprosy, and he says it is the commonest of all, where nodular leprosy and anaesthetic leprosy are mixed. These two problems together! Now, many scholars feel that leprosy in Bible times, as it's defined in Leviticus 13 and 14, is a collective noun designating a wide variety of chronic skin diseases. That may be the case, but certainly what we have just tried to describe is probably what this man who met Jesus experienced and suffered. Great physical ailment, suffering, trial, a pitiful existence indeed!
But there weren't only physical sufferings, there were spiritual consequences of having leprosy, because in Judaism it made you impure religiously. Leviticus 13 and verses 45 and 46 describes what a leper had to do: 'And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall be his habitation'.
Now just imagine this for a moment or two, if you had leprosy, think about what it would be like: that everywhere you went that was a public place, where there were other individuals, you would be shouting 'Unclean! Unclean!'. Going into the supermarket, down to the park, the insidious sense of worthlessness, despair, knowing that others look down on and despise you. Of course, we know that by the time that Jesus was speaking and doing His great works that the rabbis had added a great deal of other rules to God's law. The rabbinical teaching of Jesus' day had absurd strictures regarding the leper. That made it even worse, if it wasn't bad enough for these poor souls! The rabbis said that if a leper even struck his head inside a house, that house was to be pronounced as unclean. It was illegal for a clean person to greet a leper. Lepers had to remain a hundred cubits away from other people if the wind was upward, and four cubits away if the wind was downward. Josephus, the Jewish historian, summarised the condition by saying that lepers were treated, I quote, 'as if they were in effect dead men'.
Now, it was the same in the middle ages, because the church then merely applied the law of Moses to their ceremonies and practices. If you were a leper during the middle ages, the priest would, wearing his stol and carrying a crucifix, lead the leper into the church - do you know what he would do? He would read the burial service over him, because it was believed that that man was already dead though he was still alive! He wasn't allowed to mingle with others in the congregation, to the extent that they devised what they called 'the leper's squint', and it was a little cubicle with a cut in it where the lepers would sit and they would be able to look into the church service away from everyone else. But the point is this: spiritually speaking they were cut off from society, and more importantly from God's community, from Israel, and even in the middle ages from what was then the church.
That was the leper's plight. Now what can we learn from this? Well, Mark's gospel records more miracles than sermons - but that does not mean that we need to conclude that there is no teaching in Mark's Gospel. In fact, all of Christ's miracles were parables in themselves. One author puts it like this: 'For instance, His healing the blind portrayed His illumination of darkened hearts. His calming the storm told of His power to bring peace to troubled hearts. Raising the dead proclaimed His life-giving power. His feeding of the 5000 spoke of His being the Bread of life'. Mark is a book of deep spiritual teaching.
Now when we read the law in Leviticus 13 regarding what it was to be a leper, we see clearly, I believe, that this healing of the leper is a picture of sin, and a picture of the salvation from sin that Jesus Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, can bring. J.C. Ryle is a tremendous expositor, and was a tremendous preacher, and he says: 'It is a radical disease of the whole man. Just like sin, it attacks not merely the skin, but the blood, the flesh and bones, until the unhappy patient begins to lose its extremities, and to rot by inches'.
Turn with me to Leviticus 13 very quickly. I'm not going to read any of it, but I just want to pinpoint a couple of verses to show you how leprosy is a picture, graphically, of sin. Like sin, leprosy is deeper than the skin - verse 3 tells us that leprosy was such. Then verses 5 and 8 tell us that leprosy spread, and sin spreads - sure, sin is everywhere! Then we read in verses 44-46 that leprosy defiles and isolates like sin, it cut us off from others, and in a religious sense it makes us unclean and impure. Then in verses 47-59 there is great guidance and instruction regarding how things worn by a leper and touched by a leper were only fit for the fire, to be burned and destroyed. That's what sin does to us: it makes us only worthy of the fires of God's hell in judgement. Anyone who has never trusted the Lord Jesus Christ is spiritually in a worse state than this man, the leper, was physically. You are, my friend, if you're without Christ, a dead man walking - spiritually speaking!
I wonder if you have ever experienced a consciousness of your sin like the consciousness of leprosy for this man? Maybe it has affected you physically, maybe your sin has taken a dealing with you mentally and emotionally, it's affecting you in your personality, it has affected or is affecting the people that you live with, and ultimately it is affecting your relationship to God. Well, that is just like leprosy.
Here is this leper's plight, and out of his plight we find, secondly, the leper's prayer. He comes to Jesus in this great predicament, and in verse 40 we read that he says: 'If you will, you can make me clean'. Now before we even look at the actual words of his prayer, let me draw your attention to his disposition. He came with great humility, with contrition, Mark tells us that he came imploring and kneeling down before Jesus. He wasn't coming demanding that he should be cleansed and healed. He wasn't coming presuming that it would be his, because this man knew he was a leper, and he couldn't hide that he was a leper - everybody could see and smell that he was a leper! So he was able, freely, to admit what he was - but not only could he see what he was, he recognized who Jesus was. We know that in that he said: 'If you will, you can make me clean'. He recognized the authority of the Servant of the Lord.
Now let me show you what this, in effect, I believe, is: this is what some have described as 'pressing into the kingdom of God'. Let me explain that: in Matthew 11 Jesus said, 'From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force'. What does that mean? It means that this man was determined to meet Jesus, and to know the wholeness that the Lord Jesus Christ could give him - a bit like a woman we meet in Mark 7, the Syro-Phoenician woman, Greek by birth. She realised that she was not a Jew, so she was not in the blessings that Peter was telling the children about of the commonwealth of Israel, she was cut off from them as a Gentile dog. She was unclean, and yet she came, and Jesus was - and I say it reverently - teasing her into actually pressing through by faith into the kingdom. He said: 'I've come to the Jews, not to Gentiles'. He wasn't being harsh, He wanted this woman to be determined, and to push through. Do you remember what she said? 'Even the dogs eat of the crumbs of the Master's table'. When the Lord Jesus heard that, He realised that this woman had got it! She was determined because she knew the authority of the heart of Christ - that is what pressing into the kingdom is, when you realise like the Syro-Phoenician woman, like this leper, that you've no right or claim on Jesus, in fact everything prohibits you coming into the presence of God - but both of them knew that He was able to deal with their problem. That's what made them press through.
They knew He was able, but the great question is: was He willing? I believe all people in the world who believe in a god, believe in an almighty god - but that's not all there is to our God. God is not only able to do anything, He is willing to meet the needs of the most despised and rejected of men. This leper and the Syro-Phoenician woman saw that though they were dogs, though they were cut off from God and the community, the door was ajar even for them. Christ had come now with grace, not law, though He was fulfilling the law. They saw in Him hope, and that's why he prays.
Now I want you to see the Lord now, see what they saw. If you go away this morning just seeing a leper you've missed the point entirely, I want you to see the Lord. First of all see the Lord's compassion. It says that He was moved, verse 41, with compassion - it literally means He was filled with compassion. Now that describes an instinctive reaction on Jesus' part, and I can only illustrate it by saying that He felt it in His stomach - it's speaking of a gut reaction of pity and sympathy, but more than that, not even empathy. If you've ever had a sick child, a really sick child, you will know exactly what I'm talking about: that gut reaction that goes out to your very flesh and blood, it wrenches with compassion! Now that is the sense here, that He had this stomach-compassion for this man in all his plight and condition. He was moved! Though he was unclean religiously, though he was physically falling apart, He was moved!
Can I pause for a moment here and ask us as Christians - and I'm asking myself this - are we moved at the plight of the unclean? Are we? Do we pity them, or do we condemn them? 'Tut, tut, you shouldn't be doing that! Tut, tut, look at that! Imagine that!' - that's not the spirit of Christ, 'Ye know not of what spirit ye are of'. He was moved with compassion and, praise God, He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Sinners need not fear, He will in no wise cast out any that come unto Him, for He is not willing that any should perish, but He wills that all men should be saved - whoever they are, whatever they have done! My friend, if you're unconverted today and have never come to Christ, you have no need to fear that you're too sinful or you've done too much wrong; for this Christ is a Christ who is moved in the gut toward those who are in such a sinful plight, destroyed and wrecked by sin.
Here's another thing we need to make sure of not missing today: Christ's compassion didn't stop there, it led to action. He was moved with compassion, and it says 'He stretched out His hand and touched him'. The word, I am led to believe, expresses more than just a superficial contact - it wasn't the way that you touch a hot stove. He didn't touch him with a bargepole. The sense of the word is that He took hold of him, that's how it is often translated. So Jesus, at the very least, placed His hand firmly on that leper. Now, I know I want you to see the Lord, but just for a moment I want you to put yourself in that leper's sandals. How do you think he felt? Everybody running away from him. If he had children he couldn't go near them. He had lost, perhaps for years, if married, the touch of affection and intimacy of his wife, much less her embrace. He had not known the soft, tender touch of a healthy hand in years. Do you not think his whole being flooded with ecstasy? He had been starved of human affection! Here is a man who he just hopes might find it in His heart to heal him, and He touches him!
R. Kent Hughes says, speaking of the fact that many are like this today - not in a leprous sense, but in a sinful sense - he says: 'I once counselled a lonely man who was not a Christian. He had no family that cared, he belonged to no church. In describing his loneliness he said that he had his hair cut once a week just to have someone touch him with no misunderstanding'. I wonder can you identify with that today? There are so many untouchables in our society for one reason or another, and here we see the Christ of God touching this untouchable wretch. Again we see, as we have seen in previous weeks, He spoke an authoritative word - but that authoritative word, 'I will, be thou clean', was spoken in the context of an authoritative deed, because Jesus wanted to communicate that: yes, actions are louder in speaking than words. He touched him because He wanted him to know that He cared beyond just empty, religious words!
I just wonder, because Mark's gospel is the gospel of the cross, it's all leading that way - I wonder if Mark saw that the suffering Servant here is coming to identify again, as He did in His baptism, with man's sins. Just think of how amazed the onlookers were, they were stunned, the disciples were shaken because Jesus - now grasp the import of this - Jesus Himself had now become ceremonially unclean! Apart from that, they probably thought He might even catch the disease. Mark's lesson is the lesson of Calvary: for He, God, has made Christ sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Is this not a wonderful picture of how Christ was made our sin on the cross, yet He remained unstained by it, untouched, apart from it! The holy law of God drove lepers from society, but here Christ is displaying the sovereign grace of God that drives leprosy away from the leper, and delivers the leper!
You see if we're ever going to affect others the way the Lord Jesus Christ did, we have to learn what it is to contact them, identify with them, and not be afraid to touch them; for it shows that we are a people - yes, of the word - but we are a people of more than just words. The wonder of it all is in verse 42, it says in his favourite phrase: 'Immediately', Mark records, 'He was healed'. R. Kent Hughes says again: 'His feet, toeless, ulcerated stubs, were suddenly whole, bursting his shrunken sandals'. The knobs of his hands grew fingers before his very eyes. Back came his hair, his eyebrows, his eyelashes. Under his hair were ears, and before him was a nose. His skin was supple and soft. Can you hear the thundering roar from the multitude? Can you hear the man crying not 'Unclean! Unclean!', but 'I'm clean! I'm clean!'? All because of the touch of the Servant's hand!
Have you experienced this in salvation from sin? Listen, if you haven't, it is there. Christ is still here in His kingdom power by the Spirit to do works of salvation in your heart, and He can - but He is willing! Able and willing to do it for you! Maybe, like most people here this morning, you have been delivered in this salvation sense - but can I say to you: there is more for you to do.
My final point is the Lord's command, for the Lord didn't just have compassion towards this man, He commanded him to do two things. First: go and get a bill of health from the priest, without which he couldn't re-enter the society and join in worshipping God. Now that would have shown the priest up, because if he admitted that the man was delivered from leprosy, he was admitting that a work of God had been committed - but if he didn't believe in Christ, as a consequence he showed himself as a hypocrite. So it was a test for the priest as well as the man. But the second command was to go and tell no one! Now we know that definitely he didn't obey the second command, and I suspect that he didn't obey the first, going to the priest, either. Either way, the result of the Lord commanding this man was that he disobeyed the Lord, and he went out and told everybody what had been done - and we can understand that a little bit. But what we need to see is that the result of his disobedience detrimentally affected Christ's work.
We read that because of that, His ministry in Galilee was terminated, and preaching in the synagogues as He had begun to do in verse 39 - that was His mission, that's what He wanted to do, that's why He didn't want it published, and a whole heap of lepers coming so that He couldn't get on with preaching the word the way He wanted to. Christ was not seeking a bigger crowd, so He withdrew, Mark says, to a place of solitude, suffering in the wilderness. But here's the point, and we ought not to miss it: if we have been delivered from sin through the precious blood of the Lord, how many of us as healed Christians, because of our disobedience, are hindering the movings of Christ today?
He tells us to speak now, and many of us remain silent. He tells us to do as He has done, and as He would do if He were here, and as we would have others do unto us - and we do, often, nothing. What is Christ's mission? It hasn't changed! Don't you dare dispensationalise all these things to get out of them! He still wants us to touch the untouchables with the love and the grace of God! That is His command to us.
May I read, as I close, Acts 26, where Paul gives his testimony after meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus - and I'm not going to comment on this at all. God gave him at his conversion a heavenly vision, in Acts 26:15 we read: 'I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a servant, a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee' - why did he go? 'To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision'.
The heavenly vision is given to us in Christ here, will we disobey, or will we have compassion, fulfil God's commands, and touch the untouchable as servants of God today?
Father, we thank You that the Lord Jesus knew no untouchables. Lord, we thank You that we can say with the apostle that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Thank You for touching us by the grace of Christ, touch others even now, Lord Jesus, by Your Spirit. Father, help us to appreciate the touch of the Master's hand to the extent that we will go out and do His work touching others with the same grace, unconditional favour, that He has shown us. Let us not be like the servant, and grab them by the neck when we have been forgiven of greater debts and greater sins. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twelfth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Touch Of The Servant's Hand" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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