Summary: This is the third sermon in the series of sermons about people Jesus touched and what it means to us today.
Joseph Damien was a missionary in the nineteenth century who served as minister to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii. Those suffering grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived out before them.
One morning before Joseph was to lead them in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot. It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation. Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more hot water on the same spot. No feeling whatsoever.
Damien immediately knew what had happened. As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line. He normally began each sermon with, "My fellow believers." But this morning he began with, "My fellow lepers." (From Leadership, Spring ’97; from Ravi Zacharias in Deliver Us From Evil.)
Damien, like Jesus in our Scripture today, knew that ministering with compassion meant it would become necessary to touch others in their unclean condition.
Matthew tells how Christ had just preached the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most revolutionary and challenging discourses of all time, before he meets this leper who requests cleansing.
Matthew puts the words of Christ first and the works second. This was not by accident. Jesus didn’t have to perform miracles to get a crowd. "When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him." (Matthew 8:1)
Miracles themselves are not enough evidence that someone is from God. Satan and his emissaries can perform miracles. (2 Thessalonians 2:9) The word must be from God. Jesus was the Living Word from God and people were able to readily see this.
It’s also important to note that the first people Matthew lists as being healed by Jesus were outcasts in Jewish society. Matthew of course was primarily writing to a Jewish audience. Right away he makes it clear that the gospel is not just for a select few. The first recipients of Christ’s healing power? Lepers, Gentiles, and women. First he cleanses this leper, then he heals a Roman centurion’s servant, then Peter’s mother-in-law. The gospel was not just for Jewish men or any other narrow group of people.
The gospel is not just for Americans. God loves the world and all the people groups in it. He has compassion on every single individual human being.
Before we deal specifically with the cleansing of the leper, it might also be helpful to take a closer look at leprosy. Listen to this excerpt from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary:
"Leprosy is a disease of the skin brought on by heat, drought, the absence of a nourishing diet and personal cleanliness. It begins with a little pain, goes on in its sluggish but sure course, until it mutilates the body, deforms the features, turns the voice into a croak, and makes the patient a hopeless wreck. An animal poison in the blood ferments there and affects the skin, depositing an albuminous substance, and destroying the sensation of the nerves."