Images of the Savior (14 â€“ His Cleansing of a Leper)
Oh, how manifold and wretched is the condition that has been brought upon us by our sin! Not only have we become guilty, by its rebellious exercise; but we have, moreover, become filthy and impure. We are guilty, and thus need forgiveness and clearing, a settling of the account. And we are defiled and unclean, and thus need cleansing and purification. We are guilty, and need justification; and we are impure, and need sanctification. Our sin-induced need is manifold; but in all of our various, desperate needs, we will find the solution in only one place â€“ bowing at the feet of Jesus! Let us consider ourselves spiritual lepers, as we read this account of a leper in the flesh, and apply to Jesus for relief just as he also did. For if we do so, we will certainly meet with the same gracious response.
If the following miracle of healing that Christ performed, when he forgave the paralytic, and, in demonstration of his authority to do so, raised him up sound â€“ if that miracle demonstrated the authority of our Savior to justify and forgive; then surely this miracle demonstrates his authority to sanctify and cleanse. The Old Testament law clearly signified to fallen mankind that, before they could be counted fit to appear before a righteous God, they required release from their sinâ€™s demands. This was signified by the sprinkling of the sacrificial blood, a type which was fulfilled when Christ shed his own precious blood on the cross. But beyond the richly instructive sacrificial system, which foreshadowed justification in the bloody death of Christ, Moses also enjoined upon the people a strict law-code of ceremonial cleanness; in accordance with which, anyone who had come into contact with those things resultant from sin, anything tainted by death or decay, was considered unclean, and required to wash himself. It is significant that the outstanding example of this ceremonial uncleanness was to be found in the case of leprosy (see Leviticus 13). What more graphic picture could be imagined, of the horribly disfiguring and filthy effects of sin on the inward man?
Yes, if we would be altogether free from all of the disfiguring effects of sin, we must seek from Christ, not only forgiveness, but also cleansing; not only justification, but also sanctification; not only righteousness, but also holiness. This we may certainly learn from the account at hand. And as we examine it a little more closely, we may discern some very comforting truths about this man Jesus, and encounter qualities which are abundantly sufficient to overcome the most wretched defilements and disfigurements which we see in our own souls. To these qualities, we now turn our attention.
We note, first of all, that this leprous man comes with a heart of faith in the divine power and authority of Jesus. He comes to him in faith, falls down at his feet, and indeed worships him, as we may learn from the parallel account in Matthew 8:2. However, this manâ€™s faith in Christâ€™s divine power is not yet coupled with a full, experiential knowledge of his great love and compassion. But here we see something remarkable and thrilling to our feeble and desperate souls: when the heart of faith in Christâ€™s divine power to cleanse brings a sinner to his feet, he will not at all find him wanting in compassion, or unwilling to grant the requested mercy. Is this not the surpassing greatness of our Savior? In his person are joined the awe-inspiring power of very God, and the approachable lowliness of the meekest of men. He is great, to inspire our faith and worship; and he is good, to draw out from our souls the fearless confidence of a little child, a confidence to approach him without fearing his wrath, no matter how we deserve it. Truly, the one who believes that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him, will find him so to be indeed (Hebrews 11:6)! How sweet a lesson it is, that Christ not only possesses all the power of God; but he is, moreover, always merciful to him who believes in his divine power.
And then, we may also learn much of the evil-conquering purity of Christ from this account. For consider how overpowering a thing was evil, as Mosesâ€™ law testified. For the one who was unclean, when he touched a person who was clean, did not thereby become clean â€“ no, quite the opposite, for both alike became unclean (Haggai 2:11-14). Indeed so powerful was the corrupting influence of sinâ€™s impurity, that he who was a leper was required to withdraw far from his brothers, and to cry out at all times, â€œUnclean!â€ lest they, through accidental contact, should contract the same defilement (Numbers 5:2-3; Leviticus 13:45-46). But this leper came straight to Jesus, seeking mercy; and Jesus was not loth to reach out and touch him! And so marvelous is the unspotted purity of our Savior, and so powerful is he over sin and death, that he did not become unclean; but rather, the leper became pure, and was cleansed from all the disfiguring effects of sin in his body. So will it ever be with him who touches Jesus. There is much truth to meditate upon in this exceptional circumstance.
Furthermore, we are reminded again of Christâ€™s exact and unremitting obedience to the law which God commanded his people to observe. This man was certainly cleansed, for Christ himself had so determined. Why then must he go to a priest, who was but an altogether inferior type of our true High Priest, who had already passed his verdict? Simply because, until the law had been fully and perfectly kept, it still held its fearful sway over all men. Christ recognized this, and, throughout his lifetime, submitted himself fully to its just demands. And he also required of others, until his death had rent the veil of the temple, that they submit to it also. Oh, how blessed is our condition now, that â€œwhat the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God [did], sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, [he] condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us...â€(Romans 8:3)! But until that time, Christ was careful to observe the manifold demands of the law; and thus he satisfied its requirements, and, in addition, both affirmed its holiness and established the usefulness and validity of its types, which pointed to none other than himself.
We must finally mention the startling commandment of Christ to this cleansed leper, which is quite in keeping with his instructions following many other miraculous healings; and that is, that he was strictly enjoined not to publish abroad that which Christ had done. What could have been the meaning of this singular directive? Surely, Christ himself often taught that his miracles were done as incontrovertible evidence of who he was (see, for example, John 5:36). And why, moreover, did he command the opposite only to the maniac of Gedara, who was not even Jewish, and who dwelt in Gentile lands (Mark 5:19)? Although many opinions have been offered â€“ some altogether unsatisfactory, as, for instance that Christ so commanded in order to stir up in the leper the opposite effect than that which he ordered, which would have been a deceptive motivation entirely unbefitting the spotless purity of our Redeemer; and some more compelling, as that he may have been avoiding a premature crisis with the disbelieving leaders of the Jewish nation, which may have some element of truth. Yet, perhaps the most basic reason is that reality which had long been prophesied (Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 6:9-10; Isaiah 65:1-2), and to which Christ himself gave clear testimony elsewhere (Mark 4:11-12): namely, that spiritual sight was to be withheld from the Jews for a time, so that the Gentiles might be granted mercy; and that this mercy which was so bountifully poured out upon the Gentiles would, in turn, provoke Israel to jealousy, so that God, having concluded all in unbelief, â€œmight have mercy upon allâ€ (Romans 11:32). How rich and staggering is this cycle of free grace and mercy! And we have no doubt that this singular circumstance, that Christ would command the maniac of Gedara to tell his own people of what he had done, and at the same time forbid that the forgiven elect of Israel should speak publicly of his mercy, was nothing but the first winds of this blessed, prophetic reality that would soon issue forth in the gospel-power of Christ spreading throughout all the nations of the earth, and turning the world upside-down for the sake of Christ! But enough on that point.
There is no doubt that, to the extent that we see in ourselves the same desperate needs as we see in these hopeless wretches to which Christ revealed his power and compassion, to that extent only will we be blessed and comforted by these stories of the wonderful works of Christ. If we see ourselves as pure and healthy already, we will be little moved by this account of Christâ€™s dealings with a miserable leper. But if we see that we are indeed leprous, and even worse than he, leprous on the inside, and impure in the heart â€“ then we will find no end of delight in meditating upon the amazing qualities of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, so mightily displayed as he walked on this earth some two thousand years ago. O Christ, my Savior, I am filthy and impure, helpless and hopeless, but I believe that you are able to cleanse me, if you but desire! Oh, let me see your tender compassion! Cleanse me, and I will be cleansed indeed! â€œWash me, and I will be whiter than snowâ€ (Psalm 51:7)!