Summary: God loves us and shows it to us in many ways throughout the Old Testament, Gospels and Epistles. This sermon deals with how Jesus shows His love for us by cleansing us.
So the story we read today in Mark, also recorded in Matthew 8 and in Luke 5, is a wonderful example of Jesus’ love for the unlovable. All throughout Scripture we see that God has a tender sensitivity for the outcast, the hurting, the sorrowful and the desperate. I said last week how He is drawn to the tears of His children and He reaches out to those who are lonely and suffering. What a loving God we have.
Today we see the encounter between Jesus and a man who, as it says in Luke’s account, “full of leprosy”.
Let me tell you a little bit about leprosy in order that you may fully understand the correlation between this story and the gospel. See if you can make the connection as I go through these facts about the disease:
• The whole body could be affected.
• It usually began with fatigue and pain in the joints.
• Scaly spots would develop on the skin, as the disease progressed, the body would be covered with puss filled nodules.
• The appearance of the face would be altered, so that the sufferer would come to resemble a lion. Nodules would grow on the vocal chords so that the leper spoke with a raspy voice.
• The body was in a state of living decomposition, thus a terrible stench surrounded the leper constantly.
• Leprosy attacked the nervous system, compromising the body’s ability to feel pain. It acted like an unwanted anesthetic, numbing the body.
The leper might step on a stone or a thorn and injure his foot and be totally unaware that there was a problem. Infection would set in and eventually, the injured foot might just fall off. The leper might wash his face in scalding water and blind himself. He might reach into a fire to pick up a dropped potato and not realize that he had been badly burned. Rats and other vermin would often chew on sleeping lepers. One doctor in a third world nation would often send a cat home with his leprous patients after he had performed surgery on them.
• It usually ran its course in about 9 years.
• The sufferer usually died a horrible death.
• One of the worst aspects of leprosy was the social isolation it brought. The Levitical Law was very clear in its commands to lepers, Lev. 13:45-46.
• By the time of Jesus, the rabbis had added many more restrictions to the law governing lepers. If a leper even stuck his head inside a home, that home was considered unclean. It was against the law to greet a leper.
• When it was determined that a man had leprosy they would banish him from the village, he was no longer allowed to have communion with other people. He had to leave his family; he had to leave his friends.
• It was unlawful for a leper to approach within 50 feet of a clean person. If it was a windy day, the rule changed to 200 feet.
• He could not touch his family; he could only see them from a distance.
• Many families brought food and clothing for a while, but after a time, most families had a funeral service and regarded the afflicted person as a dead man.
• The leper had to tear his garments so people would recognize that he was a leper.
• Over his upper lip he had to wear a cloth so he wouldn't spread the contamination and every time he saw people coming, the leper was required to cry, “Unclean! Unclean!”.
• The leper’s cries would warn people that a leper was nearby and people would pick up stones to throw at the leper so he wouldn’t come near.
So this is the kind of man that approached Jesus in our story today. He was an outcast and when people saw him, they ran away. He could never give or receive a hug. He couldn’t sit and tell stories or recite Hebrew scripture with his family. He was alone, repulsive and dying. This is one of the most pitiful encounters that we see Jesus having.
Nevertheless, the leper came to Jesus in a proper, reverent way. I wonder if he wasn’t once a priest or other religious leader. He probably wouldn’t have been surprised if Jesus avoided him or told him to stay away from him. But Jesus didn’t do that. What did Jesus do? It says that when Jesus touched him, the leprosy left him and he was made clean. He stretched out His hand and touched the leper.
Jesus touched the untouchable and He cured the incurable. He reached out and touched a man that would make Him unclean. His love overruled the Levitical Law.