Touched and Healed (Mk. 1:40-43)
It is fascinating to observe the Lord Jesus as He is described in the Gospels. Mark shows Him as God’s model servant. Every characteristic of a good servant could be seen in Him. Zeal and compassion, dependence, obedience and energy - all of these things were present, and in perfect harmony.
Just observe Him, and you will admire Him. It will lead you to worship. In His zeal and energy He had been very busy all day long (Mk. 1:21-34 describes a single working day). After this long working day, in the evening many came to Him for help so that finally “all the city were gathered together at the door” (v. 33). But next day, very early in the morning, when others were still sleeping, He went to pray. He had His ‘ear opened’ (Is. 50:4). When the disciples told him that lots of people were looking for Him, He was not tempted by the prospect of sudden popularity. Instead, He replied: “Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth (Mk. 1:38).” This was His dependence.
But then He also had compassion. This is demonstrated in a beautiful way in the case of the leper.
Leprosy is an appalling disease. Even today, there are 10 million lepers, and about 700,000 people are infected with leprosy every year. If you want to get an idea of how this disease works, listen to the words of Aaron, when his sister contracted leprosy (in her case, a direct judgment from God). He said: “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb” (Nu. 12:12). How would the Lord react to such a man presenting himself?
Before we answer this question, let’s look at some of the symptoms of leprosy. Here’s a list of some of the features of this gruesome sickness. You will find that each and every one of them gives an illustration of what sin is like:
- It starts in a very small way: it could be, for instance, just a small ‘bright spot’ in the skin (see Le. 13:2)1
- It is a problem ‘underneath the skin’: this was one of the tests to help the priest find out, whether a problem in the skin stemmed from leprosy or not: if it was ‘deeper than the skin’ then this was a sign of leprosy.
- It spreads: in some of the more difficult cases, the person concerned had to be locked in for some days. After this period, the big question was whether the problem had spread. We read: “if the priest see that, behold, the scab spreadeth in the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean: it is a leprosy” (Le. 13:8). Unforgiven sin will always lead to more, and worse, sin.
- It is contagious (Le. 13:46). Just as anyone who came too close to a leper would contract the disease, sin has a defiling influence on others (1 Co. 15: 3).
- It disqualifies/shuts out from the presence of God (Le. 13:46 and Nu. 5:2). As a consequence of sin, man ‘comes short of the glory of God’ (Ro. 3:23).
- It isolates (Le. 13:46 and Nu. 5:2). A leper had no place among God’s people. Sin also will lead you away from God’s people. It will stop you enjoying fellowship with them.
- It involves progressive corruption and leads to death (see Nu. 12:12 and 2 Ki. 5:7). Again, this well-known fact illustrates sin: “The wages of sin is death” (Ro. 6:23).
- It can be healed by God only: The king of Israel knew this well. When asked to arrange for Naaman to be healed from leprosy, he said: “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?” (2 Ki. 5:7). Only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7).
You may find other marks of leprosy that illustrate sin, for instance, the fact that it makes its victim increasingly insensitive.
Such a person came to the Lord. He was in a dreadful state. One day, it had started as a small spot in the skin. Meanwhile, he had become ‘full of leprosy,’ as we know from Luke 5:12. What a pitiful appearance it must have been. And yet, he did the only right thing and came ‘to Him.’ There is no other hope for a sinner than coming to Jesus, personally.
Then, kneeling down, he utters these few but telling words: “if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” He had no doubts whatsoever about the Lord’s power. He knew that he was kneeling in front of the omnipotent One. But how about these words ‘if thou wilt?’ The poor leper will not have experienced much love recently. He also might have looked at himself, the awful condition he was in, and might have concluded that nobody would want to help him. But if a man looks at himself, this will not help him to appreciate the Lord’s love.
But the Lord answers by doing three things, and he does them in a way dispels all doubt. First, He “put forth his hand.” This was the first visible sign that the Lord would take an interest in him and that He would not shy away from his terrible state. Second, He “touched him.” This must have been the last thing the leper would have expected. Nobody would have wanted to touch him. But the Lord could do so. He was holy and would not be affected by leprosy. Thirdly, He speaks these wonderful words: “I will; be thou clean.” The ‘I will’ shows His love, and the ‘be thou clean’ shows His power.
The stretching out of the hand and the touching of the leper are a beautiful picture of the cross: the Lord came to earth and died on the cross, for poor and miserable sinners. Have you felt His healing touch as yet?
Only Mark tells us about the Lord’s inner feelings when stretching out His hands: He was ‘moved with compassion.’ In chapter 6:14 and 8:2, the Lord was moved with compassion on behalf of great multitudes. Here, we see Him moved with compassion on behalf of an individual, and one in a deplorable state.
The result was complete and immediate: “And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.” Again, this reminds us of Golgotha. The Lord’s work is perfect. And those who believe in Him are cleansed - fully and immediately: He ‘has washed us’ (Re. 1:5), we have been - not will be - ‘made fit’ for the inheritance (Co. 1:12), and “he has made us accepted in the beloved” (Ep. 1:5). When a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, comes to the Lord Jesus in faith, then he or she is ‘perfected for ever’ (He. 10:14). Don’t believe any who claim that this is the starting point of a road to ever increasing holiness. It is true that a Christian should keep growing (2 Pe. 3:18), but the Lord’s work is so great and absolutely perfect that, before God, we are made completely acceptable in the Lord Jesus.
What a wonderful experience the leper has made! And yet, he makes a mistake early on in his new career. The Lord had strictly forbidden him to speak about what had happened. The leper may not have understood why, but the Lord had His reasons for saying what He said. Instead of obeying, the cleansed leper does the opposite of what he should have done. He publicises the news everywhere. As a result of the leper’s disobedience, the Lord could no longer go into the city, but had to hide himself. How sad to see that - though meaning well - the man who had just made this great experience of being healed from an incurable disease becomes a hindrance for the Lord and for His service.
This is where every Christian can draw a practical lesson. Ideally, we should obey and understand why the Lord wants us to do certain things and not to do others. But in some cases, a Christian - especially a new convert - may not understand exactly why certain instructions are given. In this case, we can serve the Lord best by simply obeying, even if we do not understand everything.
In this way we can show our appreciation of the One who ‘stretched forth’ His hand to reach out to us, who ‘touched us’ and who cleansed us from our leprosy of sin.