“Being Made Clean”
Series: Certainty in Uncertain Times
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church
- Take your Bibles and open to Luke, chapter 5.
As we search for Luke 5, we acknowledge the fact that to worship together on a July 4th Sunday is to gather together for worship with an even greater sense of the gravity of our privilege and the immensity of our blessings. We worship this morning with profound gratitude to God and to the founders of our country that we enjoy the freedom to assemble and worship as we do.
On this day, the Declaration of Independence, written by a committee of five, with Thomas Jefferson as the chief author, declared the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain. John Adams, one of those five authors, writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776, predicted that Independence Day would be, “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” He adds, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
I trust that we will agree that being in God’s house on July 4th is one of those “solemn acts of devotion to God,” as is observing the Lord’s Supper and bringing an exposition of Scripture, preaching the Word as a solemn act of devotion to God Almighty, listening carefully to the Word preached as a solemn act of devotion to God Almighty.
We left off at verse 11 where Jesus had called forth His first disciples. Peter, certainly Andrew, and James and John, Luke says, “forsook all and followed Him.” We read next a brief account of how this Lord, who makes fish swim into the fishermen’s nets as Lord of all the sea, now, demonstrates His power as Lord of all sickness. What happened when Jesus entered one particular city and was met with a man full of leprosy? Let’s read about it.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
12 And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus; and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
13 Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.
14 And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”
15 However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.
16 So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
This passage illustrates that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, has all power to heal.
A couple of weeks ago we were studying the passage in Luke 4 where Jesus is in the synagogue and casts a demon out of a man. I shared with you that we don’t see demon possession as much in America because, I believe, Satan gets to us where he can get us best. His aim is to distract us from Jesus. So for us, Satan does not often work through the power of paranormal experiences such as demon possession. He knows most of us are snugly in bondage to recreation, money, material success, sport, and leisure. These are the things that draw us away from a full-blown devotion to Christ. So Satan doesn’t need to “wow” us and frighten us with demon possession when we’re so complacent with our false understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, defined by the average American as just being good and going to church once a week.
I shared that occurrences of demon possession are far more likely to be reported in poorer, third world countries where folks are less likely to be in bondage to material things and leisure. So the next week I got an email from our friends with the mission in Thailand who forwarded prayer requests from Christian pastors in neighboring Laos, some of whom we ministered to at the fall conference last year in Thailand. I’ll read an excerpt from one of these pastors. Some names and places are abbreviated or omitted for security purposes. One Laotian pastor writes:
“I am serving in a church in ________ province of Laos. A man named “Mr. K” who has been possessed with demonic spirits for four years came to our church. [See how that is reported so straightforwardly as a matter of fact?] We prayed and fasted for him. Finally, he became a believer after being delivered by the power of God. We discipled him for 4 months and, after that period, he went back to his village named ________. In (this) village a man “Mr. L” also became a believer after hearing that Mr. K had been delivered by the power of God. But we had continually prayed for Mr. L for 4 months before he finally became a believer and saw God’s delivering power. We thank God that He is greater than the demonic force that has kept the Laotians in bondage for many generations. But now God is delivering one by one into His kingdom.”
So I share this with you as a reminder that demon possession is not something found only in the New Testament, but that there continue to be reports of occurrences all over the world.
The point of Jesus’ healing a man full of a demonic spirit is the same point of Jesus’ healing a man full of leprosy: Jesus has all power to heal and He has all power to heal because He is more than just a man, more than just a good moral teacher, He is God in the flesh.
Verse 12, Here is a man “full of leprosy.” The picture in our minds of this man is probably accurate. Most of us are familiar with the modern leprosy known as Hansen’s disease. The word leprosy in the Bible, however, encompassed a wide variety of skin diseases, including the occurrence of various boils and sores upon the body. And while we won’t go into great detail here about how leprosy horribly disfigured a person and caused the person to lose feeling in his body, we will note that such a dreaded skin disease caused a person to be regarded as “unclean,” physically unclean and ceremonially unclean.
Lepers, for example, were forbidden to worship at the temple and were forbidden to congregate in the mainstream of society. In fact, Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 give us the most biblical information of how lepers were treated in biblical times. You may wish to read those chapters later. For now, let me quote just from Leviticus 13 for what the Mosaic Law teaches about lepers. From Leviticus 13:45-46:
“Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean! He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Not a very pretty picture is it? Lepers were isolated from society because leprosy was considered highly contagious. So if a leper were walking down the road and someone happened to turn the corner in his direction, the leper was obligated to warn the person by covering up his face and warning, “Unclean! Unclean!” He lived alone because all society regarded him as unclean. I suppose he woke up every morning thinking to himself, “Unclean.”
And leprosy was also nearly always thought of as a judgment from God for sin. Part of the reason people felt this way was because God had, in fact, directly punished some people this way. One of the 10 plagues in the Book of Exodus was a plague of boils that broke out upon the people of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-12). When Moses’ sister Miriam complained against Moses and criticized him, God judged her with leprosy (Numbers 12:10). And prideful King Uzziah became leprous because he tried to do something that only God’s priests were to do (2 Kings 15:5). These examples likely led many to think of leprosy as a direct punishment by God for sin in a person’s life.
But of course many people became leprous who had done nothing at all to deserve leprosy. Many people became leprous for the same reason many people become sick today. We live in an imperfect world and all of us get sick at one time or another.
But what a horrible thing it would be to have had leprosy in biblical times, to be ostracized by society and to have such a grotesquely disfigured appearance. Think of it: most diseases are on the inside, unseen by others. If one had leprosy, the entire world could see it because it affected the entire body. Add to that the humiliation of always having to cover your face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” and we can understand something of how this leper in Luke 5 must have felt.
Luke tells us that after Jesus heals this leper that he instructs him in verse 14 to tell no one, but to go and show himself to the priest. He says, “Go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them as Moses commanded.” The passages we mentioned earlier in Leviticus spell out how a person who is cleansed from leprosy is to go about the process of being re-integrated into mainstream society. It was a rare thing to be healed from leprosy, but sometimes it happened through a process of time as an infection cleared up. But only a priest could pronounce a person “clean” from leprosy and then issue an official certificate that allowed the healed person back into the general population. So Jesus tells this cleansed leper to follow the book, follow the Levitical law and go and see the priest for his certificate.
But Jesus also instructs the man in verse 14 to “tell no one.” We have touched on this before. Jesus is not yet prepared for the world to know that He is the promised Messiah. He is revealing this truth a little at a time, taking time to call disciples and taking time to train them. He is taking time to preach and teach the Good News. He is aware of the fact that if word gets out too quickly that He is the Messiah that people will misunderstand because they had in their minds notions of a popular ruler over the world rather than a Savior of the world. He doesn’t want people flocking to him for physical healing and completely miss the fact that what they need most is spiritual healing. Jesus has a lot of teaching yet to do and so he simply tells the man to “tell no one” but to go and show himself to the priest.
Nevertheless, word gets out what Jesus had done in cleansing this leper so, verse 15, “great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.” It is for this reason, Luke tells us in verse 16 that “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”
The Greek construction there in verse 16 suggests an ongoing activity. It is probably better translated, “was praying,” so that a better translation of the phrase would be something like, “Jesus was regular in this business of going off somewhere and praying.” And He was! We read in Luke more than any other Gospel about Jesus’ prayer life. Luke 6:12, “He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” Luke 9:18, “And it happened, as He was alone praying…” Luke 9:28, “…He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” Luke 11:1, “Now it came to pass, as He was praying…” Luke 18:1, “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.” Luke 22:41, “And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed.”
So frequently in Luke do we find our Master praying that some scholars refer to the Gospel of Luke as “The Gospel of Prayer.” How important that we should take time to pray! How frequently do you get alone to pray? Are you a follower of Christ? If so, you will follow His example in prayer. Take time to get away each day and get on your knees and talk to God.
We noted earlier that Jesus does not want people merely flocking to Him for physical healing completely missing the fact that their greater need was spiritual healing. Do you know that your greatest need is spiritual healing? Your greatest need is not to become a successful business person. Your greatest need is not to find a career that makes you happy. Your greatest need is not to enjoy life and leisure. Your greatest need is not to feel well and be physically fit, or even to be healthy. Your greatest need is not physical, but spiritual. Your greatest need is to come to Jesus Christ and to be cleansed from sin. Christ’s physical healings were like sign posts or arrows that pointed to the far greater need for spiritual healing.
While leprosy itself is not necessarily a judgment for sin, leprosy certainly illustrates the effects of sin. Like leprosy, sin permeates our entire being from head to toe. We all have this dreaded condition of sin and it covers us entirely and, if leprosy separated a person from others, our sin separates us from God. So lest we think there is nothing here for us to learn, let us mentally regroup and learn from the actions of this leper. From the actions of this leper we can learn something about ourselves and about God. There are profound spiritual lessons here in this account of physical healing, two actions in particular. First we learn the importance of approaching Christ in humility.
I. Approach Christ in Humility
Verse 12 tells us that this leper when this leper, “full of leprosy,” saw Jesus that “he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Do you have that image in your mind? Maybe Jesus had just finished teaching a bit or was walking down the street of this certain city, but here comes this man full of leprosy. Mark’s account tells us that the man came to Jesus. He comes up to Jesus and falls face down before Him, just falls, says Luke “on his face.” That is the posture of one who understands something of humility, isn’t it?
How unlike the way so many people rush to God today as though He were some sort of Santa Claus figure who exists for the purpose of satisfying our whims and giving us gifts as we request them.
There is not only humility in what the leper does, but also in what the leper says. He says, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” If you are willing. Those four little words reveal the humble heart of a man who understands that he deserves nothing. He doesn’t say, “Lord, You should do this. Lord, You must do this. Lord, it isn’t fair. You simply have to do this! He says, “Lord, if You are willing.”
The leper understands that it may not be the Lord’s will to heal him. He understood the truth we read back in chapter 4 when Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. Jesus said in verse 27, “Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” It was not the Lord’s will to heal every leper. It is not always the Lord’s will to heal us of every disease.
See the humility in all of this! We must approach our Lord the same way. We must be willing to accept His plan and purpose regardless of whether His plan is what we think it should be. We must believe that God knows best and always does what is right. God knows best. He knows best.
He knows best in keeping you from getting that promotion. He knows best in protecting you from that bad relationship. He knows best in providing for you the salary you are now receiving. He knows best in allowing you to suffer that special setback, difficulty, and illness. His will is perfect.
May God help each of us to fall on our faces daily before the Lord and cry, “If You are willing.” The Lord’s prayer is “Thy will be done,” not “My will be done.”
Approach Christ in humility. Secondly, the leper teaches us to:
II. Acknowledge Christ’s Ability
This leper acknowledges Christ’s divine ability. He recognizes Christ’s divine ability to heal. He says, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
After falling on his face, the leper addresses Jesus as “Lord.” It is not insignificant that Jesus never corrects the leper for calling Him Lord. He is, in fact, Lord. After the leper says, “if You are willing, You can make me clean,” Jesus says, “I am.” I am willing. Jesus doesn’t say, “Wait a minute! You’ve got this all wrong. If any healing takes place here it will be because God, Yahweh, does the healing. I can’t do this. I am merely a prophet. I am merely a good, moral teacher.” No. He says, “I am. I am willing.” That is, “You are right to call Me Lord, because that is who I am. I am Lord over all creation. I can make fish swim into the net for a great catch and I can touch you and heal you immediately of your leprosy.”
The leper acknowledges Christ’s divine ability. “You can make me clean.” He can! There is no limit to “You can.” There is no limit to Christ’s divine ability. Do you believe He can?
Do you believe He can answer that prayer? Do you believe He can take care of you this week? Do you believe He can meet your needs? Do you believe He can heal your hurts? Or do you find yourself placing your trust in other places? Is it not, “Lord, You can,” but, “Government, You can?! Investments, You can?! New boyfriend, You can?! New car, You can?!”
Do you trust the Lord with your future? Do you believe He can give you peace? Do you believe He can calm your storm? He can! Recognize His divine ability. He can.
This leper knew his need. He knew his condition. He was unclean. “If You are willing,” he said to Jesus, “You can make me clean.” He knew he needed to be cleansed.
And all it takes is one touch and one word. Jesus touches this man everyone else shunned. He compassionately touched him. And then one word, just one word in the Greek, “Catharistheyti!” from which we get our English word, “Catharsis,” purging or cleansing.
Like the leper, we must know our condition. We are unclean, spiritually unclean. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is nothing good in us. All of our righteous acts and works of goodness and random acts of kindness are all regarded by God in Isaiah 64:6 as “an unclean thing.”
So we must come to Christ in humility and acknowledge Christ’s ability, coming to Him saying, “Unclean!” We are unclean from head to toe, not 80% clean and 20% unclean or 10% unclean and 90% clean. No, we are 100% unclean and in desperate need to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy of sin. We need a touch from Christ.
- Stand for prayer.
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