Summary: Jesus shows his Divine Sovereignty over sickness and disease as well as over sin in the healing of the leper.
Love for a Leper
A Reminder of Jesus’ Mission in His Ministry in Matthew is to demonstrate the King and the Kingdom of God. Matthew 4:23: “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Matthew adds a “parentheses” with the Sermon on the Mount.
We studied Jesus’ first discourse, in chapters 5-7 where Jesus demonstrated His Kingly Wisdom and Authority in being and teaching the Word of God. The last sentences of Matthew 7 were: “The crowds were amazed (struck out of their minds) at His teaching; 29 for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
We see Jesus returning to what He was doing in Matthew 4, namely, healing the sick: Matt. 8:1 says: “When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him.” (Why were the crowds following Jesus? Was it because they loved Him? There’s no indication of that: Probably the greatest hint is from 7:28-29: They were probably extremely “curious” because of His Authoritative teaching. It was far different than the wishy-washy teaching of the scribes.)
2 “And a leper came (literally, “approached”) to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean (katharizô)."
3 “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him (to fasten to, adhere to, or to set fire to something), saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them."
The Leprous Condition
Leprosy was, and still is, a horrible bacterial disease. Leprosy, as it's called in the Bible, was no doubt picked up in Egypt, and probably originated in Egypt; the children of Israel were infected with the disease while there and when they came into the Promised Land, they carried this disease with them.
Leviticus 13:45 gives a clear picture: "As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache (mouth, because it is spread is passed from the mouth when it is inhaled through the air) and cry, 'Unclean ! Unclean !’ (It’s from Leviticus that we teach our children to “cover your mouth” when you cough or sneeze.)
In the Bible, leprosy was the most graphic illustration of sin: Sin defiles the whole body. Sin is ugly, loathsome, incurable and contaminating. It separates, alienates and makes outcasts of men. In the same way, every leper not only lived with the stigma of his own disease, but he lived with having to be a walking illustration of sin and was ceremonially unclean...wretched.
One of the rabbis in the Talmud said, "When I see lepers, I throw stones at them lest they come near me."...Another said, "I would not so much as eat an egg that was purchased on a street where a leper had walked." They hated, despised and feared them. It is shocking that Jesus, in presenting the credentials of His Messiah-ship, begins with such a man?
The Path of the Leper
Matthew gives us a clear picture of the Path of the Leper in these few verses: Like a sinner on the road to repentance, the leper recognized his extreme need for the touch of the Savior upon His life, and so he turned to Jesus. In order to do so, he had to set aside his own pride and the social stigma that accompanied his terminal condition that was known by all. He wasn’t afraid of what others would say, besides, everyone could SEE that he his condition was terminal, besides, he was required to vocalize his condition wherever he went by yelling: “Unclean! Unclean!”
How he heard about Jesus doesn’t really matter. He approaches Jesus, he turns from the way he WAS going, and the leper bows before Him. The word used for “knelt down” or “bowed” is most often translated “worshiped”. (proskyneô) He exercised worship and humility using the word “Lord”, but his actions show that it was not just out of courtesy or respect: His physical posture demonstrated his heart position in reverence before the Lord Jesus. Those who truly know themselves and their tremendous need before God, come to Jesus FIRST OF ALL and worship Him.
The leper also begs Jesus. Our text in Matthew uses the word “said”, but in Mark 1:40, which records this miracle, Mark uses the word “beseeched” or “begs”(paraklesis). “Paraklesis” is not obnoxious pestering, but rather, humble pleading. The act reminds you of Jesus’ example of penitent “asking and seeking” before God when you realize your need (Matt. 7:7).