The Coming of the King, Part 3; Mark 1:40-45

Providence Church (CREC)

Sixth Sunday After Epiphany

February 15, th in the year of our Lord 2009.

The Coming of the King, Part 3

Sixth Official Sermon

Audio no yet available.

Scriptural Text: 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42 And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 And Jesus  sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44 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.” 45 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.

Prayer: O Lord Christ, as you have cleansed the leper, Cleanse our hearts that we may see the truth of your Spoken Word and then taste your mercy at Your table. Amen.

The gospel of Mark presents Messiah the king as the One who casts out the unclean spirit in the synagogue, heals Peter’s mother-in-law in her home, heals multitudes of sick and oppressed people at the door and now begins his preaching ministry throughout all of Galilee. Not only is Jesus moving around geographically, but he is moving from one form of uncleanness to another.

We will find in our narrative that the cleansing of the leper bears great similarity to the previous works of healing. When Jesus cast out the demon, he referred to it as the “unclean spirit,” so that exorcism is a form of cleansing.[1] The leper’s healing is also similar to that of Peter’s mother-in-law. In both cases, Jesus touches them and immediately heals them. In all of these cases of healing, we find pictures of the resurrection. The man who is possessed by the unclean spirit is captive to the forces of evil; he is spiritually dead. Jesus raises him from the dead by casting out the demon. Peter’s mother-in-law is raised from the dead. She is lying with a great fever and Jesus raises her to newness of life. The healing ministry of Jesus is not just a spectacle for the watching audience, but it carries a greater significance in redemptive history. In the end of Mark, Jesus will be physically raised from the dead, so that He might be the picture of our future resurrection in the great consummation.

This morning we are introduced to a leper. When we think of a leper in the Bible we may think of Hanson’s Disease.[2] But this is not particularly what the Bible has in mind when speaking of a leper. In the Scriptures, someone with leprosy could still live in his home with his family. It was not a life-threatening contagious disease.[3] We do not know all the details of what leprosy was and meant in the Bible, but we do know that the Scriptures speak of leprosy as God’s affliction upon disobedience. In the examples of Miriam[4] and Uzziah,[5] God struck them with leprosy because of their disobedience. There is not always a one to one parallel, but we can be sure that leprosy is a form of uncleanness. According to the Law of Moses in Leviticus 13 and 14, a leper was excluded from the worship of God’s people. You could not go to the LORD’s house and assemble with the covenant people. You were not completely quarantined, but according to the Law of Moses, if you went into town or anywhere, you had to Cry out: Unclean! Unclean! So that people were aware you were coming. The laws were clear both in the Mosaic Law and in extra-biblical sources: if a man touched a leper, he would be considered ceremonially unclean.

The uncleanness of the leper will serve once again to affirm the filthiness of the priests. The priests are also leprous. They are filled with defects. We know that as the synagogue goes, so goes the people. But in Mark’s gospel, the leper comes to Jesus in humble submission, unlike the priests. He comes in verse 40 imploring and kneeling, saying: “If you will, you can make me clean.”

In verse 39 Jesus is preaching in the synagogues. It is possible that the leper finds him there. It was in the synagogue where the unclean spirit encounters Jesus. In that case, the unclean spirit wants nothing to do with Jesus, but in this case, the leper comes to Jesus. According to the law, the priest has to go outside the camp where the leper lives to declare him to be ceremonially clean. But in this case, the leper comes to the synagogue. He is not looking “for a pronouncement that he is clean ritually,”[6] he is asking to be fully cleansed; to be made whole. He wanted Jesus to do what no human priest could do.

Jesus is now moved with pity. Jesus’ response is one of compassion. Everyone who would encounter the leper would be moved to anger and wrath, but Jesus responds with compassion; compassion for the effects of sin; compassion at how this man has been separated from society and from worship. He could have simply pronounced him clean like the priests, but Jesus does what no one would do. He stretches out His hand and touches him. Psalm 138 says that the Lord stretches out his hand…and his right arm delivers me. Messiah honors this humble plea for deliverance and makes him clean. “Now he can return to the communion of God’s people.  Now he can take part in Passover and all the other feasts.  Now he can offer sacrifices in God’s temple.  Now he can live among God’s people again.”[7]

Jesus restores the leper by touching him, saying in essence, “all those ceremonial laws spoke of me.” I am the unblemished One! In those days, anyone who touched the leper would have become unclean, but Jesus cleanses the leper and yet remains clean himself.

The perplexing part of this narrative comes in verse 43: “And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once.”

The language here indicates that Jesus is warning the man. But why is He charging so sternly the man whom He has just cleansed? The answer is that Jesus wants this clean man to go to the proper route of the Mosaic Law. He needs to go to the priest first, so that the priest may pronounce him: Clean! If the priests pronounce him clean, naturally they are going to ask who made him clean. Jesus wants the clean man to go to the priests so they may know that the same one who preached with greater authority than scribes, who casts out the unclean spirit, now took away the leprosy of an unclean man. Interestingly, the cleansing of the leper is similar to the cleansing of the unclean spirit. Jesus tells the unclean spirit to be silenced and then he casts the uncleanness out. Jesus tells the unclean leper to be silenced and then he casts him out. But here is the difference: When Jesus silences the unclean spirits, they were truly silenced. When he tells the clean man to be silenced, he does not stay silent. The only proper conclusion to this is that the man who was made clean disobeyed Messiah. Disobedience generally is not understandable, but in one sense this disobedience is understandable. This man cannot control his joy; he wants to spread the fame of the One who has cleansed him. He is acting like an itinerant preacher. But though his disobedience is understandable, it still has negative consequences, as we will see in verse 45.

His preaching is so successful that Jesus could not longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

There is a reason Jesus told the man not to tell others about what happened. Here is the climax and theological significance of this narrative:  A leper comes to Jesus. As you know a leper cannot live in a town; he has to live outside the city; in a wilderness, so to speak. When he comes to Jesus, he is healed of his leprosy and now he has access to the city, access to the worship of God, access to assemble with other worshipers. On the other hand, because the leper spread the fame of Jesus so effectively, now Jesus cannot come into town, because His miracles have caused an uprising with the religious leaders and everyone wants to see him. He is unable to go about his ministry effectively. As a result, Jesus has to live in a desolate place. He has to live in a wilderness-like place. Jesus is living just like the leper.

What we have in this narrative is Jesus taking the place of an unclean man and taking upon himself the sufferings of an unclean man. This is a foreshadowing of the gospel when Jesus will suffer on the cross the pain that we rightly deserve. This is why the gospel of God’s grace is so rich. “It is hard to imagine a more vivid picture of Jesus suffering under the curse that those who deserve the curse might receive a blessing.”[8]

We were the proper recipients of God’s wrath, but God laid His wrath upon Him who knew no sin, so that we might become the heirs of grace.

In II Kings 5, we hear of another man who also was a leper. His name was Naaman. Naaman came seeking for healing through the King of Israel. But the king of Israel could not cure leprosy. He could not make the unclean, clean. But there was man named Elisha, a prophet of the Lord who cures the man of his leprosy. Elisha told Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan seven times, and when Naaman finally believed the prophet, he did so, and he was made clean.

The King of Israel cannot cure leprosy, but the true King of Israel, Jesus Christ, He can make all things clean. Jesus is the greater Elisha who gives new life to the leper; new disposition; who takes away his old flesh and gives him a new heart of flesh.

The narrative ends with the people coming to Jesus from every quarter. The picture is that of the nations of the earth seeking the one who can heal the nations of their uncleanness. Only the clean, pure, unblemished, spotless Lamb of God can make all things new and can heal this wicked world of her leprosy.

How shall we then live?

a)      Have you noticed how often in this gospel we see Jesus touching someone? The King is coming with great power and authority, but He also comes with great compassion; the compassion shown to the despised and rejected. We are called to show this compassion as well. We are called to find ways in which we can touch the lives of others. Our Lord teaches us that He is not merely concerned about the world to come; He is concerned about the world now. He is concerned about restoring this world; about bringing righteousness to the ones who suffer; particularly the ones who cannot fight for themselves: the unborn. I encourage you to pursue righteousness in this world, though it may appear to be lost. The leper is a picture of this world. He is unclean, but Christ will make it clean for the glory of His name.

b)      We see also a picture of our deadness in sin in this leper. But instead of moaning and groaning over his condition, he comes to Jesus in humble submission. After all, where can he go? Jesus is the One who gives life; who makes the dead corpses to rise from the grave.

c)      The leper sought cleansing because He would be restored to the community of faith. He would become a faithful worshiper. His uncleanness kept him from the gathering of God’s covenant people. Do we as a people this morning, hunger after the assembly of the saints on the Lord’s Day. Do we hunger for proper worship of the Triune God? Do we hunger to be cleansed of our sins and to come to the Feast the Lord has prepared for us at His table? May our souls long for the congregation of the righteous where the righteous One, Jesus Christ is exalted and worshiped.

In The Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Mark Horne, The Victory According to Mark, pg. 46.

[2] Hansen’s disease, commonly referred to as leprosy, is a chronic infectious disease caused by the mycobacterium leprae bacteria. This disease can cause severe deformity of the feet, hands and face. The bacteria that cause leprosy thrive in cool areas of the body such as the skin, nerves near the skin surface and in oral and nasal mucus membranes. The infection leads to a loss of sensation in the affected areas.

[3] See John Barach’s excellent sermon. Private correspondence.

[4] Numbers 12.

[5] Ii Chronicles 26.

[6] William Lane, The Gospel of Mark. pg. 85.

[7] Taken from John Barach’s sermon. Private correspondence.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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