Matthew 8:1-4 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Heals a Man With Leprosy
8 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy[a] came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. 4 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.”
So we are starting another series through the book of Matthew tonight, this falls before the second teachings of Jesus in Matthew which starts at chapter 10, and essentially is a grouping of miracles to prove that Jesus is who he says he is and that His teachings line up with who He is.
Tonight we come to a peculiar teaching that is going to be difficult to explain because we are not Jews and so we lack some of the basic cultural knowledge to understand why this miracle matters.
I will try in 30 minutes to cover as much as we can of Jewish culture for this miracle to not only make sense but to show us Just how good and powerful Christ is.
I’ll explain what I mean in…
A side note on why Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone:
I mean why does Jesus tell this man not to tell anyone? This seems almost deceptive and backwards. Right? Well, it seems like that because we lack the cultural norms to understand what Jesus was doing here.
You see as a leper this man was deemed “unclean” (I’ll explain this more as we go), which limited his public interaction with people and his ability to take part in the weekly worship.
So, Jesus sent the Leper to the High Priest for verification of the miracle & instructed the Leper to perform the thanksgiving sacrifices dictated by Moses, so Jesus was instructing him to follow the Law.
Not only this; the miracle would now be disseminated via Temple gossip and could not be denied, and Jesus’ credentials authenticated to the people.
It should be noted that as today there were numerous charlatans in Jesus’ day performing what the populace deemed “miracles”.
When a “miracle” was inexplicable to the Temple authorities, an investigation was conducted to determine whether Sorcery was involved, and if such was confirmed, Moses’ ordinances required the Sorcerer to be stoned to death (Deut 18:10–13; Ex 22:18).
As you can imagine, the physicians & other healers avoided gaining the attention of the Temple authorities. Jesus did the opposite!
Jesus short circuited the norm, and by submitting himself to the authority of the Temple, the Temple authorities couldn’t accuse him of Sorcery, the best they came up with (privately) was accusing him of being in league with Satan, which he refuted to their face (cp. Mt 12:24–26)
So understanding the context of this passage helps us get the message of this passage; and the message is simple; Jesus is better than we first think and He is Holier than we first think.
So let’s look at this passage and see how Jesus;
1. He proves He is good
The man comes up to Jesus and asks Jesus “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This is such a profound statement.
This leper, a man cursed with an incurable, probably painful but inherently embarrassing skin disease.
When Scripture talks about leprosy it is just talking about infectious skin disease (it is not the technical leprosy that we understand today), and this was always used in scripture as an illustration of sins effect in life; it was destructive, it isolated us and separated us from the presence of God and ultimately lead to death.
So picture this man with a stain visible to everyone that he was infected, sin and its effects were visible to all he knew, not only this but the Law of the day, to prevent further infection and to separate the Holy from the profane was that this man had to walk around in torn and dishevelled cloths and cry out “unclean, unclean” as to not infect anyone. Generally these people lived outside of society and were outcasts at every level.
This man comes to Jesus, a Teacher that he had heard was teaching the Kingdom of God and healing people and says, “if you are willing.” The leper had crossed the divide on where Jesus was able, this was not his problem, the problem with this man was overcoming the divide on where Jesus was good, on whether he wanted to heal this poor man or not.
You can completely understand why he would have this struggle. It was assumed at this time that if you had leprosy it was because God was judging you for sin. This poor man had had nothing but rejection for as long as this stain of infection had been upon him. Why would the servant of God treat him any differently?
I would argue that this is our doubt as well, we come to God and our question is not at His ability, it is generally at our worth, and his willingness. We throw up the idea why should God be good to us?
Many of us who are sensitive to our failures come to God as a leper, unable to hide our uncleanness, and so like this leper we cry out, if you are willing, but our heart is already in the place of rejection, we anticipate that God is unwilling, that why should he?
The beauty in the passage is Jesus’ answer; “I am willing.” Jesus shows the leper that he is good, He is benevolent! He longs to do good for his people.
Let that sink in, Church, Jesus wants to do good! He longs for your betterment, he longs for you to be clean! He is willing to be the instrument of your healing!
Now what happens next shows us that Christ is not only willing but His powerful enough to overcome our sin, our uncleanness.
2. He proves His Holiness is greater than our sin
It reads that Jesus reached out and touched the lepers hand. This was not only scandalous at the time, but was a contradiction of everything that the Jews understood. Here we get into some cultural understanding to really understand what is going on here.
So, the Jewish understanding of Holiness and uncleanness, is not so much our germ obsessed understanding of uncleaning and clean. It has to do with Holy and profane, life and death.
I’ll explain; what comes to mind when I say holy? Most of us have this idea of morally good, now that is part of the understanding but it misses our the other side of the equations which is it is separate, other, undefiled.
I’ll use the illustration that Tim Mackie uses, because it is brilliant, but an operations room is a holy space, because it is pedantically clean, and if anything dirty comes into the whole room is compromised. In other words, if someone is having an operation and they have this great open wound and this guy who has just fallen into raw sewage runs into the room flicking raw sewage all over the place, what will happen? The doctors will move that patient out of that room as fast as they can because the whole room has become defiled.
This was the Jewish understanding of Holiness. Unclean things were associated with death and contamination, while holy things were associated with life and purity.
This is what was so shocking to the audience about Jesus touching this unclean man, is that he was in danger of ruining his own holiness, his own set-apartness. The shocking message of this passage is not that the leper was healed, that is amazing. Rather, the shocking reality of this passage is that Christ’s holiness changed the lepers uncleanness and not the other way around.
Now, if we think about it, it is also contrary to the way that we see the world. No-one here thinks that by being clean you can go through a sewage and come out the other side with the sewage being cleaned.
The shock of this passage is that immediately this man was cured, he was clean! This is impossible! And in fact the answer to why Jesus is powerful to impress his holiness onto us, to move his holiness into our uncleanness and heal it would only come at the end of Christ’s life.
You see church, God did not just come into the world and arbitrarily take away our sin. He didn’t just come in and wave the magic forgiveness wand so that whoever believes well God’s now cool with you.
Jesus at the end of his life, endured that man’s uncleanliness, he endure all the consequences of that man’s sins upon himself, so that His holiness could be given as a gift to that man and us!
Let’s break this down; the goodness of heaven broke into earth at this point; the life and health and holiness of heaven was transferred to the brokenness, disease and sin of this man. Now we read this, and it seems like it just happened. But it didn’t, and it couldn’t of have.
If Jesus in pure justice dealt with the problem of this man, he would have had to have wiped him out. And if Jesus came and established the justice of heaven, pure justice (which we all cry out for when it is another person), every sinner would be utterly destroyed!
Who here could live up to a perfect standard? Who here could face the superlative holiness and greatness of God without it destroying us?
I’ll illustrate it in a way we can understand; who here has ever met someone who is really powerful, or really famous? How do you react? You cower, you loose your brain and say stupid things, you feel stupid and useless. Now if that is how we act when a human is superior to us; how would we act when we are in the presence of someone who is eternally greater than us?
I’ll give you another example; we went through a walk through the Kruger tour when my sister came out from Aus the one year, and it was brilliant! I would suggest it! however, we were walking and I saw something move on a rock like 50 meters away now you are in the park, so you are slightly on edge, but I was more on edge when that entire rock stood up and it was a male rhinoceros. You never feel as insignificant than when a 2ton creature stands up 50meters away from you!
Now if that is how we act with a creature how would we act with true power, with true superiority?
If God brought His unbridled holiness into the world it would demolish us! This is the beauty of this passage; God brought His holiness into the world, but not to destroy us, but rather to take upon himself our unholiness, our sin, our uncleanness so that we can bare His holiness!
This is what Christ did on the cross, the holy perfect son of God, took all the shame, all the uncleanness, all our guilt and sin, ever bad thought and word, every bad thing you have ever done, and he endured the ultimate consequences of it! He endured it on the cross!
Church, don’t you see? We are that leper coming to Christ and saying if you are willing you can make me clean! And Jesus holds out His outstretched arms on the cross and say I am willing! In fact he endured that all for your sins! How great the love of God is in Christ Jesus!
What are you coming to Christ with tonight? What shame what sin, what blemish are you bringing to him thinking he can’t be that good? He can’t take this from me? I must prove myself good! No! bring it! bring it all He is willing!