The leper, Jesus and community

February 28th, 2015

The title of my message today is the Leper, Jesus and Community. It looks at Jesus’ amazing interaction with a Leper who approached Him and the result of what happened. This story is found in three of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. Today I am going to focus on the Matthew version.

Once I have read the passages I will do my usual thing where I look at some of the background teachings and contexts, then I will bring out some applications points that we can reflect on for today.

Bible Reading – Matthew 8:1-4

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy 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 cured 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.”

Breakdown and teaching on the text

Verse 1

Jesus came down out of the hills, where the Sermon on the Mount had been delivered; the great crowds still followed Him. Some would have been amazed by His teaching. Some would have been inquisitive and wanted to see more of this Rabbi. Some would have dared to believe He may be the promised Messiah that the Old Testament had prophesized about. Some would have just followed to see the miracle worker in action.

Verses 2-3

In verses two and three Matthew now starts to share some specific miracles of Jesus, beginning with a leper. As we will see later this is the first of eight miracles in Matthew 8 and 9.

The Bible uses the term Leper to describe a number of skin diseases that were contagious. Leprosy is a disease caused by the bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae, which attacks nerves in the hands, feet and face making them fragile and insensitive. Untreated, leprosy ultimately results in disability including ulcers and physical deformities. It is interesting to note that in the past 20 years, 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy with a simple dose of a combination of three drugs that costs around $30 Australian. Even today there are over 1000 leper colonies in India.

In Biblical times if people had leprosy they were declared unclean by the Priests and they lived outside the town in a leper camp until they died or got better. Leviticus 13:46 says that “As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp”. If it were in Merredin today, they would have to live out behind Merredin Peak. They would not be able to come into to town, to work to come to church, to see their family as they would infect them and make them ceremonially unclean. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation today.

In verse 2 we see this man “knelt” before Jesus in the NIV, though this Greek verb (pros-koo-neh-o) for knelt can also mean “worshiped.” Some translations actually translate it as “knelt and worshipped Jesus”. We also see in the passage the man used the title “Lord”. In the Greek it means Lord, Master or Ruler. So we can see from these two things he held Jesus in high regard.

In verse 2 we also see this in the statement “If you are willing”. It reflects the leper’s great faith, probably prompted by Jesus’ healing activity throughout the district. We see that in Matthew 4:23-25 that Jesus had already performed many miracles and the news spread around the district – people had come from Syria, Jerusalem, Jordan, the Decapolis, and Judea followed Him. The leper had no question about Jesus’ healing powers. He knew Jesus already had the authority and power to heal, He only needed to decide and act. Jesus reached to touch the leper, probably because the leper did not dare come close to him.

By touching an unclean leper, Jesus would become ceremonially defiled and unclean according to Jewish custom (see Leviticus 13-14). As it stood, the leper couldn’t work or live or interact with other people in the city. In fact if he entered the city he had to cover his mouth and yell unclean, unclean wherever he went. If he failed to do so he could be stoned to death. This is so people would not become infected and religious Jews would not become ritually unclean. But when Jesus’ touches something, it cannot remain defiled or unclean. Far from becoming unclean, Jesus makes the unclean leper clean and He makes him whole. Both Jesus’ word and Jesus’ touch are effective in showing the power and authority and healing of God. The Leper was healed and restored.

Verse 4

Jesus’ command for the leper to keep quite and go show himself to the Priests was about allowing the man to be acceptable to the community as a whole again. When someone had leprosy a Priest was the one who confirmed and sentenced them to live outside the city in isolation. Only a Priest could declare them clean and restore them to community life.

Leviticus 14:1-4 says “And the Lord said to Moses, 2 “The following instructions are for those seeking ceremonial purification from a skin disease.* Those who have been healed must be brought to the priest, 3 who will examine them at a place outside the camp. If the priest finds that someone has been healed of a serious skin disease, 4 he will perform a purification ceremony.” This is why Jesus told him to do this. To prove the miracle and healing took place.

There is also another reason why Jesus told the man to be quiet about the miracle healing. If more people knew, more people would come to see the “miracle worker” in action and it would make it hard to move around. The Mark version of the story tells us that it impeded Jesus’ work and He could no longer enter the town freely (Mark 1:45).

Summary

So we see this miracle healing was done by Jesus out of compassion for the Leper, but it also had greater implications for him as a person. He was restored in body, he was restored to family and community life, and he was restored spiritually as he could attend the Temple once more.

Application points

So what can we learn from this passage? What can we use today? There are five things.

1. The first thing we see is whatever our problem, whatever our illness, whatever our issue, we can bring it to Jesus.

This miracle is the first in a series of miracles that Jesus performs. If we read through Matthew chapters 8 and 9 we see there

  • The man with leprosy (Matthew 8:1-4) – He knelt before Jesus and said if you are willing I will be healed. Jesus was willing and healed him.
  • The Centurion’s slave (Matthew 8:5-13) – He asked Jesus to “say the word” and his servant would be healed from a distance. Jesus said the word and he was healed.
  • The calming of the storm (Matthew 8:23-27) – The disciples were terrified as the storm on the lake threatened their lives. They called to Jesus and He stilled the storm.
  • The Paralytic man – (Matthew 9:1-8) – Some friends brought the paralytic man to Jesus in faith that He could heal him. Jesus told him to pick up his mat and go home. He got up and walked.
  • The Dead Girl (Matthew 9:18-26) – A man came to Jesus and told of his dead daughter. He said if you touch her, she will live. Jesus touched her and she lived.
  • The Sick Woman (Matthew 9:20-22) – The woman who had been bleeding non stop for 12 years came to Jesus. She knew if she could touch His cloak she would be healed. She did and she was healed.
  • The Two Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-31) – Two blind men came asked Jesus to have mercy on them. He asked if they believed He could heal them. They said yes and they were healed.
  • The Mute Man (Matthew 9:32-33) – A man was brought to Jesus who was demon possessed and could not speak as a result. The demon was driven out and he was healed.

Jesus intervened in all of these situations. Jesus was also able to make the Leper whole in an instant. He had the power and the authority and as the Leper found out, He had the will to do it. Whatever we are faced with today, we should bring it to Jesus like the Leper did in today’s passage. Prayer and bringing our problems to Jesus should be our first reaction, not a last resort. If you are struggling with something today, bring it to Jesus in prayer.

2. The second thing we see just how important restoring people to a community is to Jesus.

As we saw the leper was an outcast. He was separated from his people. In an instant though, Jesus healed him, not only his body, but his connection to the world he used to live in. He would be welcomed back into his community. He could live amongst his people. He could work and make a living. He could be restored to his family. He could return to worship in the Temple.

Likewise today, those who have lived with chronic pain or long term illness or loss of loved ones, knows that pain and illness has a way of separating people from community. I believe that God wants to restore us and the isolated people in Merredin and have us in a community of like-minded people. A place where we can be loved and accepted. A place where we can be prayed for when we need it. A place where we can be built up and encouraged. A place where we can hear positive encouraging messages. A place like this. I have found these things here. My family has too.

One of the things that God has shown me over the years is that I really need to see this life as not just my journey, but our journey together. God has really changed my heart in this. I was individual in everything I did – sport, relationships and even my faith. It was my faith. The devil was happy about this be the devil wants to divide and separate us from each other. He would like nothing more that. In this story of the Leper we see that it was more than a compassionate healing. It was a restoration of family and community life. Community was important to Jesus and being part of God’s community needs to be important to us. It is just so vital if we are to be all that God wants us to be.

3. The third thing is we need to follow Jesus’ instructions or we may interrupt Jesus’ plans

We see in this in verse 4 that Jesus gave strict instructions to the healed Leper to go straight to the Priests to confirm the miracle. As we saw this was a requirement for Him to re-enter society with full rights. Instead the man went and told everyone in town. It would be like me running up and down Barrack Street and telling everyone I came in contact with. I could imagine his excitement. I would be tempted to do the same. But Jesus gave him strict instructions. As we saw before his decision to tell everybody in sight actually impeded Jesus’ work in that town.

There have been times in my life where God has told me to do something a certain way. Sometimes I listened and sometimes I did it my way. The times I did listen it didn’t always make sense. Sometimes I only knew part of the story or see only part of the bigger picture. Regardless I purposed in my heart to do things the way God wanted me to. In time I saw more of the reasons why God gave me specific instructions and it made sense. It was for my good, the good of those around me, and more importantly it served God’s bigger purposes. His Kingdom was expanded by me being obedient to His instructions. Following Jesus’ instructions are important if we don’t want to interrupt Jesus plans.

4. From this story we see we can’t treat people like outcasts

One of the things I love about Jesus is that He is a Saviour for all people. In the Bible we see that He spent time with and reached out to people of all backgrounds and nationalities.

This is especially interesting because at the time Jesus walked the earth, many people only spent time with people from their own people group. They did not mix with others because in many cases they thought they were unclean.

Jesus spent time with the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23), the Pharisees (Matthew 12:2-6), the Herodians (Matthew 22:15-22), the Romans (Luke 7:2), the Zealots (Luke 6:15) and the Samaritans (John 4:39-42). Combine this with Jesus spending time with other social outcasts of the day like tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers shows that Jesus was a Savior for all people. He didn’t discriminate. He just genuinely loved and cared for people, no matter whom they were or what they had done. He didn’t treat people as outcasts.

One person I have known for a long time treats people like Jesus treats people. She sees people at made in God’s image and uniquely special and important to God. She knows that Jesus cared enough to die on the cross for them.

One example was in Perth. We had a local lady who was a single mother with you children. She was tall and imposing and of Aboriginal heritage. Not many people would talk to her in the street. Many would cross the road if they saw her coming. Over the years we were neighbours she knocked on many doors for help when things were tough. Most people refused. My wife invited her in. They became friends and Riss would talk, pray for her and encourage her. She would drive her to the shop or vet for her pets. She gave her food parcels. One day when she was crying, Riss reached out and hugged her. It had been a long time since she had a hug and never from a “white” person. It melted her heart. I have seen Larissa do this with homeless people, with severely disabled people, with bikies. She treats them as special to God.

This is the type of person I believe Jesus wants us to be. He wants us to really love people, to care for them, He wants us to welcome them in no matter how different to us they are. He doesn’t want us to shun people or treat them as outcastes. He wants to embrace and heal them. He wants to do it through us. This is the person I want to be. What would Jesus do? What should Dave do? What should you do? We can’t treat people as outcastes.

5. The final thing we see is this story is a picture of mankind and God

In this story we see that the leper was outside the city. He lived outside and alone. This is what it is like for many people who are living outside the family of God. They are alone and needing cleansing for their sin. As Christians we know that Jesus came and died on the cross for our sin. He came to take the punishment for our wrongs. Because of His death and resurrection, we can come boldly to God and approach Him as our Lord, our Saviour and our King. We can receive forgiveness for our sin and we can have right standing with God. We become part of God’s community and part of His eternal family. Sadly many people we know don’t have this same standing with God. They are still on the outside of the city of God. This is a major reason why this this church exists – to help people become a part of our community and more importantly, part of God’s eternal family. We want people to be a part of God’s city, living safely inside His walls, both now and for all eternity.

Closing

So today as we move on to a time of fellowship, let us remember these five things for the healing of the Leper…

  • That we can bring all our problems to Jesus and He can help us.
  • That being part of God’s community is important to God and it needs to be important to us too.
  • That we need to follow God instructions and do things God’s way.
  • That we can’t treat people as outcasts.
  • That there are many people not part of God’s community who need a touch from Jesus too.

Amen.