[Leprosy doctor. Christian charity. A photograph. The smile of a healed leper. Filled his face. Filled the photograph. Came out and embraced you.]
Speaks something of this man healed by jesus.
But that man - is all of us. he is all of us. For we are all unclean and we need Jesus Christ. And he can make us clean..
Let’s go through each verse
v12 The problem of uncleanness
Jesus is in one of the towns of galilee where he has been proclaiming the kingdom of God in his teaching and healing. In Jesus Christ the rule of God has returned and is being established and a broken world is being restored. This is the reality of the world today - the light of the rule of JC pushes back the darkness and will ond day remove the darkness completely when he returns..
And now here is this man. This needy man. It is not just that he is a leper. he is, we are told, covered with leprosy. This is a serious disease.
And this awful physical condition is only the beginning of his problems..
Because, as you may know, according to the Jewish OT law, leprosy and other skin diseases rendered a person unclean. And this had serious consequences for their life. Turn with me to Leviticus 13. The law given to the newly constituted nation of Israel after God’s people have been liberated from slavery in Egypt and are now a nomadic tent dwelling nation in the Sinai wilderness. And here we have Regulations about infectious skin diseases. Have a read sometime. But the summary is there in vv45-46 “…”
He must be identifiable - the appearance of someone bereaved; mourning. clothes torn, hair long - the walking dead
He is excluded - if ever he comes near to others he must cover the lower part of his face and cry out Unclean Unclean to ward people off - keep people away.
He must live alone and he must live outside the camp.. You know how the camp of Israel worked. All the tents of Israel and some kind of boundary for protection and at the centre of the camp God’s tent the tabernacle - at the centre.. God accessible to all ..
Ah but not the lepers - they are outside the camp - they cannot come in. Excluded from the communiy and distant from God - Unclean
Now you can see in Leviticus 14 (and we’ll look at this closer in a minute) but there were protocols and provision for when someone recovered or was healed of an infectious skin disease. Provision for that to be verified and for them to be welcomed back in to the community but we know that that must have been very very rare.
In the OT story of the healing from leprosy of Naaman the syrian general. he was a leper but a Syrian and their law and culture was different he was a high ranking soldier. And in the account of his remarkable healing we are told that the likelihood of a leper healing was the same as a dead man being raised from the dead. The rabbis had an identical saying: the likelihood of a leper healing was the same as a dead man being raised from the dead. It never happens.. This is a life sentence. Condemned.
It seems very harsh.
You can see public health reasons for why people with infectious skin diseases should be treated carefully. But why should they be excluded from God?
And why is it Priests not doctors who examine them to see whether they should continue being excluded or be brought back in?
It seems that something deeper is goin gon here for God to make laws like this.
And there are many laws about uncleanness and cleannessin Leviticus.
It seems that God wanted to teach us something through the poor lepers. As if they are a living parable to us..
Luke our gospel he sees it.
Because he has a leper - physically unclean - coming into the town to come to Jesus
Directly after the story that we saw last week - 5v8 where simon Peter - after encountering the holy power of Jesus - tells Jesus ‘go away from me - I am a sinful man.
the unclean man - comes to Jesus
the clean man - pushes Jesus away
what’s Luke want us to know. what are the strange Leviticus. They’re about this. That whatever we look like physical, whatever our state of health physically.. spiritually we are all unclean.
Jesus teaches this absolutely clearlu in
Mark 7v18. Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? …. [It is] What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
there is a spiritual uncleanness within every human heart which spews out thoughts and attitudes and behaviours that are evil - that is they fail to love God and others, in fact they are the opposite: self serving and destructive. These things defile us. They pollute our lives..
and they render us spiritual lepers - separated from God and his life - outside the camp, the walking dead. Unclean.
Shame. Shame is the existential manifestation of our uncleanness. And it’s as old as the world. when Adam and Eve our human parents rejected God’s authority and ate the forbidden fruit.. choosing to do life their way… Shame entered their experience and they hid from God and they blamed one another and they broke the world. And we continue in the same - when God comes towards with his healing and forgiveness, when others come towards us with love and intimacy - we say ‘Go away from me .. I am a sinful person’
these things of course are complex just as in leviticus sometimes the things that defile are not things of our own doing that we are responsible for so in part it will not be our sin that defiles us but the sins of others.. wrongs that have been done to us.. or the good that was withheld us..
sin, whether our own or not defiles us.. and it is very difficult to remove that sense of defilement of dirtiness..
Trevor Nunn the veteran theatre director (RSC and National Theatre) he famously said that Shakespeare had ‘more wisdom and insight about our lives’ than any religious tract. I would argue that the two are not mutually exclusive. Wasn’t Shakespeare reflecting on the Bible’s teaching of the stain of sin as Lady Macbeth scrubs and scrubs her hands to remove spots of blood that she can still see? ‘What, will these hands ne’er be clean’
The problem of uncleanness
But then v13 Jesus can make you clean
the leper comes into the town - he shouldn’t be there. but he has heard something of Jesus and believes that Jesus can make him clean and so he came to him. It’s amazing. It’s suprising. Many people know much about jesus but they don’t come to Jesus to ask him to heal them.
When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean. Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man I am willing he said be clean and immediately the leprosy left him
Jesus touched the man. He didn’t need to. His word alone would be powerful enough. His word created the heavens and the earth and here his words are recreating the world. His miracles are not a suspension of nature they are the restoration of nature. But Jesus didn’t need to touch him to heal him. But he does. An dhe doesn;t just touch him - a stronger expression is used - he reached out his hand and touched the man. that is he wrapped his arms around the man’s shoulders. he hugs him.
Do you remember the photos that shocked when Princess Diana visited AIDS patients and astonished the world ny shaking hands with them with no glove on the royal hand. There was no danger to her but most people weren’t prepared to do that. they were too frightened to do that.
Well there was danger with Jesus. In all likelihood the man was infectious. But it wasn’t just that - he was unclean, he was excluded - touching a leper would render Jesus, a rabbi - unclean you wouldn’t do it but of course the moment Jesus embraces the leper.. the leper is no longer a leper.
Jesus shows to the man what he must have craved, longed for. Had anyone touched him for years and years? But here was the Holy Son of God putting his arms around him and embracing him and loving him and showing him real compassion. Everyone else is stepping aside covering their faces saying to themselves ‘unclean..unclean’ Jesus comes to you and he holds you and he heals you.
You knows there’s that thing it was a number of years ago when we British were very politely told by people from the Far East - Japan and so on - that to them we smell of milk. They because they at the time were not great milk drinkers and i guess we are - they could smell on us what we couldn’t smell on each other because we’re so used to the smell..
Now it’s never nice being told you’re smelly. But if you’re unclean spiritually then there must be a spiritual odour to us - a stench of death that we don’t really always notice though sometimes we do just as when someone enters a room and lights it up another can come in and the room freezes..
But what about Jesus. The Holy son of God. He comes down into the stench of our uncleanness and he embraces the unclean. That is unbelieveable. It is shocking and extraordinary.
You know it is not such a big deal for you or I to embrace a leper because i share much of that lepers need. But for jesus to touch any of us! What are you doing Lord Jesus!
Well what Jesus is saying is - My child everything that is yours that has depraved and distorted you and rendered you unclean. I’m making you and it my own and i will die on a wooden cross for it that you might have me and everything that is mine. That’s thegreat exchange that took place on the cross.
He who knew no sin.. became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God.
You come to jesus and you say Lord if you’re willing you can make me clean
and he says i am willing
The saviour in his death and resurrection embraces the needy; embraces the odour of spiritual death and makes it his own he bears our burdens, he takes our shame, he tastes our death to bring us with him, connected to him through to resurrection life.
v14 the cleansed life
then jesus ordered him, Don’t tell anyone but go and show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.
Leviticus 14 and see what this man had to do.. READ vv1-9
Isn’t this extraordinary - the cleansed leper would have had to go down to jerusalem to the temple to make this happen..
offering these sacrifices - it is a cleansing bought by blood. the blood of Jesus
where the man had been trapped in this living death. this condemnation. He is now set free, he is a captive released.
where he was excluded from the community - he is now brought back in - and it’s demonstrated to the people as he lives outside for the first week. doing a lot of bathing
where he was dressed in the clothes of death his hair grown long - he now shaves off all his hair even his eyebrows so that it is as if he is reborn. like a new born baby. Born again to new clean life!
and where he was excluded from God he is nor presented to God..
Isn’t it extraordinary - where before as an unclean leper he was a walking parable of us all - of life without God of spiritual uncleanness and death now having come to jesus embraced by jesus saved by Jesus death and resurrection as any of us can be - he is now a walking parable of cleansing, new life, restored relationship
You know we said that these provisions were probably never used. Lepers never recovered, never got better. this was a lifelong sentence. the likelihood of a leper getting well was the same as a dead man rising from the dead. But Jesus is the man who conquers death, who dies and is raised from the dead.. And Jesus cleanses lepers..
I’m not sure how many lepers Jesus cleansed in his ministry - it wasn’t the focus was it Jesus’ phyiscal healings they were only illustrations of the spiritual healing he has come to bring through his deat and resurrection. But Jesus must have healed a bunch of lepers and so they must have been rocking up in Jerusalem and going through this process of bathing and shaving. These newborns all walking round the city because the Kingdom of God has come.
3 brief applications
- Be cleansed. Jesus shed his blood for your cleansing. To remove the stain that separates you from God. That picture of the onetime leper smiling. he said I am glad that i had leprosy because if i hadn’t i would never have come to Jesus. It’s never nice to discover spiritually that you’re a leper. But if that knowledge drives you to Jesus and to his cleansing then how glad we should be. Do that. be cleansed.
- Be deeply cleansed. In Christ you are clean. But that cleansingthen needs to be applied to our hearts - to our fear, our shame, our sense of alienation from God and one another. We are no longer to live in shame if we are Christ’s. We can be captive in our thoughts and behaviour to feelings of shame and dirt. We can continue to hide from God and others. But we are not to be like that. We need to know that in christ we are pure .. that we might live pure lives. Here’s how the apostle John speaks about it.. (we often use these words when we confess our sins). 1 John 1v7 ‘If we walk in the light as God is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his son purifies us from all sin.’ John is saying in the context that there’s a danger that we hide our ongoing sin - that perpetuates shame and it breaks our fellowship.. but if we confess our sins to God (and i think to others we trust) we are brought into the light of God’s forgiveness and cleansing and into real fellowship with one another. Take confession seriously, expose sin so that you can apply cleansing to your heart.
- Suffer shame now for Christ. The writer to the Hebrews tells us ‘Jesus suffered outside the city to make the people holy through his blood.’ Jesus went outside the camp that we might come inside. he became unclean on the cross that we might become and then it says, ‘Let us then go to him outside the camp bearing the disgrace he bore.’ Jesus suffered shame for us. Let us now not be ashamed of him. Let us offer our whole lives as an act of thanksgiving for what he has done for us. Live your cleansed life for him..