The Leper (Matthew 8:1-4)

November 6, 2022 | Meritt Raup


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Good morning. It is great to be with you all today as we begin this new series called encounters with Jesus. So we’re going to look for the next three weeks at three incredible scenes from the ministry of Jesus, where three different characters have three incredible encounters with Jesus. So I hope you’re ready to join that with us. And so today, I would like to invite you to turn to Matthew eight, verses one through four in our passage today. And in our passage today, we meet a man who is facing a terrible disease. And not much was known about this disease at the time. But it was understood as highly contagious. Those who contracted this disease were required to quarantine themselves away from society. You couldn’t go into work, if you were sick, you had to stay home, you had to keep a certain distance from others as a precaution. If you happen to come within a certain distance of someone, you were required to declare that you were infected, and that they should stay away, or else they might get sick, too. There wasn’t any known cure for this disease. But there were some treatments that were sometimes effective. And in order to be cleared of this disease, you needed to receive a negative test. And after that your entire home needed to be disinfected and sanitized by professionals. But sadly, in some cases, this disease led to death. The sound familiar to anyone on this passage, we meet a man who didn’t have a virus, but leprosy. He had leprosy. And this man had an extraordinary encounter with Jesus. So today we’re going to dig into this passage to examine this man who is our patient, we’re going to see how the physician responds as Jesus. And then we’re going to see the prescribed cure that Jesus offers to this man. So in this will see, this story is not just about physical disease, but it reveals the spiritual disease that we all face today. So I hope you’re ready to dig in with me. Let’s begin by reading the first verse in our passage. Matthew, chapter eight, verse one. When Jesus came down from the mountain side, large crowds followed Him. Let’s pause there for a second, our story begins with Jesus coming down off of a mountain. And this just so happens to be the same mountain that he went up in order to preach perhaps his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapter five through chapter seven. This is where we have some of the most memorable teaching from Jesus. You know, the, the Beatitudes, Blessed are statements, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We learn about how Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. city on a hill cannot be hidden. And then there are those famous, you have heard it said statements, you know, you’ve, you’ve heard, it said, You shall not murder. But I say to you, if anyone hate someone else in their own heart, they’ve already committed murder, says turn the other cheek. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Use the famous Lord’s Prayer. It serves as a powerful model for us today. He says, Do not judge, or else you too will be judged. And in the parable of the wise and the foolish builders, the rain came down and the winds blew. And the house that was built on the sand collapsed. The house that was built on the rock stood firm. We can keep going. But we’ve all heard this sermon before the Sermon on the Mount. And at the end of Matthew chapter seven, we read that the crowds were amazed at His teaching. I mean, who wouldn’t be amazed after a sermon like that? He was teaching with authority, not like the scribes and the Pharisees, but he was speaking powerfully about the Kingdom of God. So after finishing his sermon, our Lord Jesus comes down from the mountain. Large crowds are following him now. And the question is hanging in this story and this narrative, what’s going to happen next? Now that Jesus has just talked the talk, is he going to walk the walk? Is his ministry going to confirm the sermon that he just preached? Or are his words going to be empty and powerless? Enter into the scene, our patient. Matthew eight verse two, says, A man with leprosy came and now Before him and said, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. The first person that Jesus encounters after his most famous sermon is a nameless man with leprosy. With man comes from outside the crowds, and approaches Jesus and bows before him. This is a bold move on the part of this man, because this he has leprosy. Leprosy was no joke back then, you know, we now know leprosy as Hansen’s disease. But the word leprosy in the Bible not only referred to Hansen’s disease, it it covered a range of different ailments that affected the skin. They didn’t have the same understanding of modern medicine that we do today. So the situation was dire for anyone who is unfortunate enough to contract this disease. Leprosy was one of the most feared dangerous and life altering conditions that someone could get in the ancient world. And even though we we know it’s not easily transmissible today, back then they understood this disease is highly contagious, and communities would quarantine lepers and a separate leper colony outside of the city. It started as a rash or a discoloration of the skin. And it slowly would travel to the nervous system, where the patient would lose sensation throughout their body. And then over time, it would affect the muscles and the joints, leading to physical deformities. And then in extreme cases, it would cause paralysis. And then shortly after that death, this was a horrible and agonizing way to die. And it was a dehumanizing way to live. This man was in a desperate situation. He knew what was in his future. And his only hope was a miracle from Jesus. But this is just the physical reality. This isn’t even considering yet the spiritual reality of his situation. As gruesome and as horrible as the physical disease was, it serves another purpose. So in the Bible, leprosy, is always referred to as being cleansed, rather than healed. It’s really interesting. So healing referred to the physical the bodily realm, but cleansing referred to the spiritual realm, like the temple and the ceremonial cleanness that was required to approach God, things that we’ve talked about plenty in the past few weeks. lepers were considered unclean. They weren’t allowed to go into the temple and worship. And throughout the Old Testament, leprosy is a picture of the ultimate disease, sin. And the Book of Leviticus there are two whole chapters about how Israel should respond to leprosy in the community. And Leviticus 13 and 14, you know, the part in the yearly Bible reading plan that we tend to skip over sometimes, there are 116 verses, with instructions for Israel, on how to identify leprosy, how to quarantine someone, how to clean someone’s clothes in their house after they get leprosy. And then if someone were to recover, how to restore them to the community. But Leviticus is not meant to be a medical textbook for us. God’s people were supposed to see leprosy and see their sin. As leprosy brought terrible damage physically, so their sin would bring terrible damage, spiritually. The destructive effects of both are quite startling if we consider it, like leprosy, sin that corrupts the whole person, the entire body. It spreads and it gets worse over time. Like leprosy, sin is numbing. The longer we dwell in it, the more our conscience is seared to it. Like leprosy, sin fractures, fellowship, both with God making someone unclean, but also with the community of faith, the isolation and the destructive effects of sin that it can have on our relationships. In life, unlike leprosy, sin is deadly. The wages of sin is death we read.
Listen to these instructions from Leviticus 1345 And 46 says anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face, and cry out, Unclean. Unclean Clean. As long as they have the disease, they are unclean. They must live alone. They must live outside the camp. See, whenever with some someone would pass by a leper, the leper was required to yell out, Unclean, unclean, stay away from me, I’m contagious, you’re gonna get sick to imagine that. Instead of being known by your name, you’re known by your uncleanness. So all of this makes the leper in our story quite remarkable. Can you see his faith here? This man comes to Jesus in the midst of the crowds. He shouldn’t have been there. He was breaking his quarantine. That he comes and he bows before Jesus in an act of incredible humility. He acknowledges Jesus as Lord. He says, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. This nameless man serves as a powerful example for us today. We see a pattern here that we can use and follow ourselves. When we are faced with the uncleanness the sin in our own lives. Notice the three steps of this man’s journey. It takes three steps here, he says, First, here’s the words of Jesus. Remember, this is right after the sermon on the mount. Jesus has just finished a sermon and everyone is still in the sanctuary hanging out, the band is cleaning up their instruments, you know, everyone’s talking in the lobby after the service. The words of Jesus are fresh in his mind. There’s no doubt that he was there and heard all of this, or at least heard secondhand from other people that were close enough. He heard Jesus’s words. And now he’s confident that Jesus is able to make him clean. This is the reason why this man approaches Jesus. And it’s the same for us today. If we want to approach Jesus, to be cleansed of our sin, we must first hear God’s word. We need to know what our sin is. And we need to know who Jesus is to be able to cleanse us. So that’s step one, in this journey, hear the words of Jesus hear God’s word. The second, you approached Jesus in humility. This man bows before Jesus as a sign of respect and submission, he also calls Jesus Lord, you know, this, this may or may not be he may or may not mean he’s worshipping Jesus as God, which he was definitely worthy of, seems better to simply see this just as an act of humility, approaching Jesus. But we see that this man knows that he is powerless to cleanse himself. He knows that only God is able to cleanse him. And it’s the same for us today. If we want to approach Jesus to be cleansed from our sin, we must approach Him in humility. We must recognize that only God’s work in us is able to bring them out true and lasting change in our lives, when it comes to our sin. So first, we hear God’s word. Second, we approach Him in humility. And thirdly, we believe in faith. This man has confidence that Jesus is both willing and able to cleanse him. He says, Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean. Jesus, if you want to cleanse me, I know you can. He believes that Jesus is able to bring about the change that he needs in his life. And it’s the same for us today. If we want to approach Jesus to be cleansed from our sin, we must have faith that He is able to cleanse us and that he’s willing to cleanse us. So those are the three steps that this man takes in his journey. Here’s God’s word. He approaches Jesus in humility. And he believes in faith that Jesus is able to cleanse him. So maybe you hear this and you’re on board with it. But you’re not sure what to say, what does this look like? How do I do this this week? I want to come to Jesus and be free from my sin, but I just don’t know how to pray. Well, what do I say? How do I express this to him? Well, if you need some, some guidance, I would encourage you to always look back to the Bible. Always look back to God’s word for guidance. You know, there are so many passages in scripture where they give us the words to say when we can’t seem to find them ourselves. Psalm 51, which we which you quoted earlier in the service is one of those passages. Psalm 51. Is King David’s cry and confession to God after he is caught In his sin, he becomes aware of his sin. He approaches God in humility and repentance. And he has faith that God is able to make him clean. He says in verse in verse seven, that the verse we read earlier says, cleanse me with hyssop. And I will be clean, wash me in I will be whiter than snow. We can identify with David in this song, we can make this prayer that he prays our prayer to when you don’t have the words to say, look to Psalm 51, As just one example. Even though the circumstances of our situations will be very different. David’s prayer is a prayer that we can use to express our heart to God when we come to Him in this way. So just like David David did this, this leopard did this these three steps, hearing God’s word coming to Him in humility, and believing in faith. You know, this is not entirely unlike something that some of you are familiar with called a gospel waltz, repent, believe, obey three more steps that are very similar. This man comes to Jesus in humility, like repent, this man asked Jesus in faith, belief. And this man, no doubt left this encounter with a change life, like obey. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I guess we’ll just have to join a journey group to find out. But all of us can relate to these three steps. I don’t encourage all of us to follow this example, when we’re faced with the uncleanness in our own lives. So why should we come to Jesus like this? We’ll see next in our passage that Jesus, our physician, is truly willing and able to cleanse us. This is how Jesus responds to the faith of the leper. Matthew eight, verse three, Jesus reached out his hand and touch the man. I am willing, he said, Be clean. Without a second thought Jesus reaches out and he touches the man. And as he did this shock, and horror must have filled the crowd. Because this man has leprosy. You don’t touch a man with leprosy. Because whenever something unclean, came in contact was something that was clean. The corruption spreads and now both of them were unclean. But not with Jesus. Jesus didn’t become unclean like the man. But the man became clean like Jesus. Isn’t that a wonderful picture of the gospel? See, we in our uncleanness are like this man, we have no hope. The only thing we can do is come to Jesus and beg for mercy. And Jesus reaches out his hand and touches us while we’re still unclean. He takes on our uncleanness and an exchange we get his cleanness. First Peter to verse 24. It says, He Himself, bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. To the past, as we talked about last week, Isaiah 53. By his wounds, you have been healed. It’s the great substitution. Jesus reaches out takes on our uncleanness we get his cleanness instead, think of an athlete in their uniform. If there’s there’s one thing that both moms and equipment managers both despise it is the whites uniform. Because, as you may know, it’s very difficult to remove a grass stain from a white jersey or a mud stain from white pair of pants. What do you do you pour some bleach and you soak, soak the jersey let it let it sit for a little bit and, and as it’s soaking, you can you can see this great exchange take place, can’t you? The garment becomes white again. And then the the water becomes brown and disgusting. The bleach penetrates the jersey, you can see the dirt that’s left behind. Jesus penetrates our hearts with His cleansing power. Jesus when Jesus washes us, we become whiter than snow. The incredible touch of Jesus. Can you see the heart of Christ for this man, full of compassion and mercy.
But as powerful as this touch is of Jesus, He doesn’t just touch the man he also speaks to him. He speaks to him he says, I will be clean. Only two words in the original language quite short. But these two words Dress the two deep questions that this man is wondering. Remember, the leper said to Jesus, if you are willing, to which Jesus replied, I will. And then the man said to Jesus, you can make me clean. To which Jesus replied, be clean. In this, we see two of the most significant doubts someone can have about Jesus. The first of these is the temptation to doubt the goodness of Jesus. Because that’s fundamentally what this leper, this man is saying with the first statement, Lord, if you are willing.
What if Jesus wasn’t willing? What if you didn’t care enough about this man, cleanse him?
Have you ever asked that question in your own life? About your own sin? Jesus, do you really care about my situation right now? Do you care that I have this uncleanness in my life, that I have no ability to fix on my own? Jesus Are you willing. And when we don’t hear a response right away, we we think to ourselves, he must not be willing. He must not care enough about my sin. He must not really want me to be clean. It’s a doubt of the goodness of Jesus. And to that sentiment, Jesus says, I will. Jesus is willing to cleanse you from your sin. Believe that trust in that. All throughout Scripture, we see the heart of Christ for sinners and suffers. He is compassionate. He’s loving. He’s gracious, he’s merciful. He’s gentle. He has pity on the downtrodden. This passage is yet one of many where we see the heart of Christ. Jesus is willing. We see the goodness of Jesus on full display here towards sinners, to believe that Jesus is willing. But maybe you you already know that Jesus is willing, you don’t doubt His goodness, but instead, maybe you doubt his power. You doubt his power. Jesus, are you able? Are you strong enough? That’s fundamentally what the leper is addressing in his second statement. You can make me clean. Jesus, it’s not enough that you’re willing to cleanse me. You must also have the power to do it. Have you ever doubted if Jesus has the ability to make you clean? Yeah, you don’t know what I’ve done before. Yeah, I know you’re good and all that and you care for me. But you don’t know how long I’ve struggled with this sin. I’m addicted to this certain Sam, Jesus, you’re not gonna be able to help me here. This is just who I am. I’m just an anxious person. I’m just an angry person. I’m just a sarcastic person. Whatever it might be in your life, and and when we try to overcome it, nothing happens right away, then we think to ourselves, he must not be able. Jesus must not be strong enough. It’s a doubt in the power of Jesus. And to that sentiment, Jesus says, Be clean. Jesus is able to cleanse you from your sin. He has the power. If Jesus was able to satisfy God’s wrath against sinners for all of eternity, through His death and resurrection on the cross, and what makes you think that the sin you’re facing right now is too big for him? We see the power of Jesus on full display here. Believe that Jesus is able these two words from Jesus answer two of the greatest doubts we might face in our lives. So let’s believe that Jesus is good, and that Jesus is able to do far more than we could ask or imagine. He’s our great physician. When we come to Jesus with our uncleanness, he’s willing and able to cleanse offs. And finally we see here, the incredible cure that Jesus offers to this man. Matthew, verse, chapter eight, verses three and four. Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, I am willing, he said, Be clean. And immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. And then Jesus said to him, See that you don’t tell anyone. But go show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them. See, when Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the man, the leprosy obeys, immediately, this man is clean. It’s gone. The leprosy is not there anymore. He’s no longer known as the leper. But now he is the man formerly known as the leper. When faith comes in contact with the goodness and the power of Christ, amazing things happen. In other words, Jesus is in the cleaning business. We see that there are two parts here to the cure that Jesus gives this man first is the physical aspect of it. The physical disease that plague this man is now gone. You know, he doesn’t have to live in fear anymore. He doesn’t have to live outside the city in the leper colony anymore. He can return to his family, he can work again, to pay the bills. He doesn’t need to cry out unclean when someone gets too close. He’s free from the destructive and dehumanizing disease that changed his life. You know, we don’t necessarily know the motivation of this man coming to Jesus, it doesn’t tell us precisely it’s possible that he was only looking for physical healing from this disease. But it’s also possible that he was looking for spiritual cleansing, which we which we read about, but what we see here is that Jesus is concerned with his physical needs. This is the felt need that this man experienced most immediately in his life. And Jesus addresses that for him. But Jesus is not only concerned with his felt needs, but he sees deeper than that he addresses our ultimate need even more powerfully. This is the spiritual cure that Jesus offers to this man. Just as leprosy is a physical condition that points to a spiritual reality. So the physical cleansing of Jesus points to a spiritual reality as well. The physical healing of Jesus always has a redemptive purpose behind it. This is why Jesus tells man, go straight to the temple and offer the sacrifice. Don’t tell anyone, just go straight there and do it. You ever wonder why Jesus says that some people don’t tell anyone about this. He was probably so excited to be made clean again, you probably wanted to tell everyone, he probably wanted to go straight home and tell his family, hey, I’m clean again. I can give you a hug. Now. The disciples maybe even could have paraded him around with Jesus, as an example, say, look, look what Jesus did look at his power. They could have written a book about it. They could have made a movie about this man’s life. But here’s why that doesn’t happen. Jesus doesn’t want him and us to miss the redemptive purpose behind this cleansing, is going to the temple and offering the sacrifice that Moses recorded in Leviticus was necessary. He would have had to brought several different animals to the temple to be to be sacrificed on his behalf. You know, two birds, three sheep, as well as some grain and some oil to this sacrifice would declare him clean again, he wasn’t fully clean until the priest had declared him clean. He can now go into the temple and worship again. But more importantly, seeing these animals killed in his place, would point to his sin of being covered in atone for the sacrifice served as a testimony to this, both to him and to those around him. Others would see this man and wonder what happened, what happened to him. And he would have the opportunity to bear witness to the cleansing power of God. Jesus wants to cleanse our hearts from sin, so that we would walk in purity and be a testimony to His cleansing power to those around us. His cleansing touch is meant to remind us of the gospel. That Jesus is the sacrifice that was made for us, so that our sins could be atone for we see this painted so clearly. And Ephesians chapter five, verses 25 through 27 says Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. This is the kind of spiritual cleansing that Jesus wants us to experience. Holy, clean, washed, radiant, without stain, without wrinkle, without blemish, holy again, and blameless. I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer my life be described by those words than the opposite. Jesus is willing and able to cleanse you from your sin, if you would come to him So, come to Jesus with your uncleanness because he is willing and able, and you will be made clean when we close them by, by offering a few more applications for us. First if you’re, if you’re listening today and you’re not yet believer in Jesus, you’re searching, you’re wondering, you’re skeptical, maybe know that you can be made clean. Is there something in your life that you want cleanse from?
Now, it doesn’t even necessarily need to be something super spiritual, like this man came to Jesus with leprosy. But he left with so much more. If you come to Jesus in humility and believe in faith, he is willing and able to cleanse you, you will receive eternal spiritual cleansing. That’s what we all need. Secondly, as a church collectively, let’s be a place that welcomes people who are unclean. We have the opportunity to extend the cleansing touch of Christ to those around us. As those who have been touched by Christ, we can extend that to others. It’s quite easy to welcome people who are like us, or seem to be clean to us. But when we want to reflect the love of Christ, we must extend that to those who are maybe not so clean in our minds. People we wish would be a little bit cleaner. This, this sort of compassion is seen so powerfully in the story of a man named Father Damien. And Father Damien was a priest from Belgium, who got stationed for his first ministry assignment on the islands of Hawaii. And after a few years, he he learned about the desperate situation on a small island called Molokai. So on this small island island of Molokai, they would send lepers there. There’s about 700 lepers who lived on the small island, basically, to die. They didn’t want them to infect the rest of the state. So Father, Damien, went to Molokai and he served the patients there faithfully. He spoke the language. He learned their own language, he, he he met their needs, he took care of them. When they were sick. He preached the gospel to them. And slowly the this island turned into a place not to die, but to live. Many patients came to Christ on this island of Molokai. When the other priests and the caretakers were afraid to get too close to the patient’s Father Damien was willing to touch them. He was willing to reach out actually make contact with these lepers. After 12 years, Father, Damien tragically contracted leprosy himself. A few years later, after that, he died from the disease that he was there to care for. He was buried on the island of Molokai and news of his ministry spread, especially back in Belgium, throughout the church there and he inspired so many during his generation. Years later, his body was exhumed and returned to Belgium, because of the influence that he had. So the people on Hawaii, were not happy about this, because they want Father Damien as their own. So they asked for his body to be returned to its original burial spot. They weren’t able to get his body back. The Belgian church there rejected their request. And so instead they said, Well, if we can’t have his body, then at least give us his right hand. Because that’s the hand that he touched us with. So Father, Damien’s right hand is now buried at his original grave site on Molokai. The power of the cleansing touch of Christ. Father, Damien touched the lives of so many, both physically and spiritually. We have an opportunity ourselves to extend our hands and share this same cleansing touch of Christ to those around us. So let’s be a place where we can do that. Let’s take risks for that. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to feel natural to us. But when we’ve experienced the cleansing power of Christ ourselves, there’s nothing else we can do except extend that to others. So let’s be a place that welcomes people who may seem unclean so that they can experience the same cleansing that we have experienced. And thirdly, as believers, individually let’s bring our own uncleanness to Christ. Is there anything in your life right now that you need cleansing from What’s the sin that keeps coming back and coming back over and over again? Whatever that is for you bring it to Jesus. You don’t need to live with that anymore. In your marriage, is there a sin problem that keeps coming up? Something that that seems to get resolved right away? And then the next week it comes back again and the week after that, and it seems like, Is this ever going to get cleanse? Or maybe you’ve gotten so used to the problem that you’ve just become content to let it go? Just hope it goes away on its own? How much have you prayed for your spouse that they will be clean from that? How much have you prayed for yourself that you would be cleansed from that? Or even better yet? How much have you prayed together, that you will be made clean? Here God’s word, come to Jesus in humility. Ask Jesus in faith and walk away, it’d be made clean. This can be yours today in Jesus Christ. And then when that happens, we’ll be able to sing the words of the song in an entirely new way, says, I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene and wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned unclean. He took my sins and my sorrows. He made them his very own. He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone. How marvelous, how wonderful. My song shall ever be. How marvelous. How wonderful is my Savior’s love for me. Let’s pray together. Father in heaven, we come to you now, and we just want to praise you for the cleansing touch of Christ. You reached out to us when we were unclean, and you made us clean. We praise you for that. We thank you for how you’ve already done that in so many of our lives. We also pray that You would help us to extend that to those around us. Help us to reach out to those who who might be unclean that we know. Let us share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. Father also help us to come to you ourselves for the for the sin that still remains in our own hearts. Help us to trust that you are good, and that you are able to make us clean. Help us to come to you and humility. Help us to believe that you will change us. Father, we thank You again for who you are. We ask that you be with us this week as we seek to honor you through the obedience of your word. Ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

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