Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Christ that Cleanses

(This message was preached Wed eve, March 2, 2016 at Heritage Baptist Church:
THESIS: The cleansing power of Christ is available to any who would but come – no matter how vile they are.

Good Evening!  Please turn to Mark Chapter 1. We’ll be looking at verses 40-42.  Please follow along as I read. 

40 “And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. 42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.” (Mark 1:40-42)

Let me begin by saying that there is one central theme to be found here.  Christ receives sinners!  Now this is such a simple and straight forward comment – it might fly right by you.  Christ receives sinners.  Notice that it is Christ who is receiving the sinner, not the other way around.  So let’s start some discovery, by asking a few questions.  I think you will come to the same conclusion, that Christ receives sinners! 

One question I might ask relates to Mark’s Roman audience.  How might the fact that Mark is considering Romans, outright pagans from the Jewish point of view, as his primary audience play into the fact of his inclusion of this account in his gospel?

Another question – Why does Mark record that Jesus was, “moved with compassion”? It’s more significant than you might think!  Only Mark makes this emotive reference – though the account is also found in Matthew & Luke.

What is the nature of leprosy and why do we care?  This is supremely important since it is central to understanding the account rightly.  If we get this wrong, the whole intent of the account will be lost on us, and we’ll think of it as nothing more than another account of Christ healing someone.

Let’s consider this leper – He approached Christ, so near that Jesus could reach out and touch the man.  This is an amazing and bold step.  You know how leprosy was looked upon.  The leper was the ‘untouchable’ of the ancient world.  He was so feared and repulsive that they had to form their own communities apart from the rest of the world. 

Let’s do a short review of the Bible’s historical accounts of lepers and see if we can learn anything.  There is of course Moses’ leprous hand as a sign to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:6).  Miriam in her rebellion against Moses and the Lord (Num. 12:10).  Leprosy is part of the curse by David of Joab who murdered Abner (2 Sam. 3:29).  The account of Naaman’s leprosy is fairly well known, but sometimes we overlook the subscript to the story – Gehazi’s acquiring of it!  The account is found in 2 Kings 5:1-27. Gehazi it seems was displeased that Elisha cleansed Naaman and would take of him nothing – even when Naaman pressed him.  But Gehazi pursued this man and received 2 talents of silver and some clothing – and his leprosy!

One lesser known account to me, was that of King Uzziah.  He was one of the kings which it is said, “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah did.” (2 Chr. 26:4-5)  We’re even told of him that God made him prosper.  But that was his undoing, it seems.  For in verse 16 of the same chapter we are told how he “his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.”  For this sin he was made a leper for the rest of his days.

Leprosy clearly was not a good thing at all.  But what is it, after all?  If you read in Leviticus 13-14 we read of the law of leprosy.  Chapter 13 deals primarily with its identification, and if identified, the lepers status as unclean.  In fact the word unclean appears 21 times in that chapter! Verse 45 tells us he had to identify himself as unclean crying it aloud.  Chapter 13 identifies at least 5 kinds or possibly degrees of leprosy. 

If we look to the word leper in the Greek we see that it means scaly or scaly-ness – which might have something to do with its appearance on someone.  Leviticus 14 deals with identifying the leper as having been cleansed, and if so, what the offering should be.  The law of cleansing is interesting, once you get past the minutia of it.  There are actually several distinct offerings the leper had to make.  There was an offering for the cleansing (v. 1-9), a sin offering, a trespass offering (v 12), a burnt offering, and a grain offering.  Does that surprise you?  How is it that someone infected with a plague of leprosy is treated, like a sinner for his infection?  That sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it? 

Yet if we look more closely, you will see that the leper is not afflicted by chance.  Consider the account of Miriam – she was made a leper.  Turn to Numbers 12:10.

And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous.  11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned.  12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.

We see two things here – leprosy was accounted rightly as a consequence of sin. And she was compared to one dead.  This is significant.

As I was studying leprosy I ran across this idea which is summed up in the following quotation from the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, “To the rabbis the cure of a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead.[1] Leprosy, in the Scriptures, appears to be only healed in miraculous ways.  Otherwise it is a curse to be endured for life. 

In today’s account, we have a man with this death sentence upon him, apparently so caught up with his confidence that Christ could heal him, he disregards the law completely, and coming near enough for Christ to reach out and touch the man.  Now it’s apparent the man was not disrespectful of our Lord, for he came kneeling and begging to him.  Yet he did disregard the requirements of the law, in at least 2 points.  The approach was too close and we have no record of his crying out, “Unclean, unclean.” (Lev. 13:45)

Consider the request, “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  The request itself was not one filled with doubt.  This man had every expectation that Christ could cleanse him of his plague.  The request was based upon Christ’s willingness to heal him.  And remember the question I asked about Christ’s compassion?  It’s this compassion, I believe, which was a driving force for this leper to come.  Christ receives sinners! 

John Gill writes, “And thus it is with poor sensible sinners under first awakenings; they can believe in the ability of Christ to justify them by his righteousness, cleanse them by his blood; and save them by his grace to the uttermost: but they stick at, and hesitate about his willingness, by reason of their own vileness and unworthiness.[2]  But let me remind you Christ receives sinners because he loves them!  Such love is demonstrated in Christ’s willingness to take the cup of suffering on our behalf – because he knew we could not bear it!

As for why Mark includes this, if we consider the audience Mark has in mind, the Roman gentile world, isn’t that just the thing they might be compelled to grasp? Christ is compassionate and heals even lepers!  Matters of the law, not so much. 

How Christ cleanses the man is remarkable – in that he touches the man, BEFORE the cleansing, and speaks the word, and the man is cleansed.  This touch conveys more than compassion.  It is the means which the cleansing was communicated to the man.  Like the burning coal off the altar which touched the mouth of Isaiah, and his unclean lips were cleansed, Christ cleanses a man by his touch.  In Frederick Farrar’s Life of Christ we read the following, “The hand of Jesus was not polluted by touching the leper's body, but the leper's whole body was cleansed by the touch of that holy hand. It was even thus that He touched our sinful human nature, and yet remained without spot of sin.”[3]

Here is a perfect place to comment – the nature of leprosy is that it is representative for sin.  It is a kind of physiological breaking out of sin upon the very flesh of the person afflicted.  No one thus afflicted can hide their sin once stricken.  But this man, not hiding his leprosy, approaches Christ!

How could he?!  Didn’t he know – this great rabbi doesn’t have time for a filthy vile wretch as one so afflicted?!  But Christ does have time for him.  He does have compassion for him.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world does have regard for the sinner!

Don’t we sometimes forget this?  Don’t we, in our shame of sin, in trying to hide it, not approach the king?  He’s the very one who can make us whole!  This leper was not afraid to approach Christ – even though he was an untouchable leper!  Did you know that some of the rabbi’s said that if you were down wind of the leper, you had to stay at least 150 feet away?[4]

As many of you know I blog.  My most recent blog entry is on a passage in Luke 11, immediately after Christ gives the Lord’s Prayer.  Please turn there, Luke 11:5-13.  Follow along as I read, “And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;  6 for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?  7 and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.  8 I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.  9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.  10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?  12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?  13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

There is a certain responsibility laid upon the petitioner to ask, even to ask out of season, when the need arises, and in expectation. This expectation is not a fatalistic hope – but the reasonable expectation of a good and loving Father. Yet this leper approached Christ – near enough to be touched, and he only knew of this healer.  Beloved – we actually know the Lord! 

Often the idea of one’s prayers to the Lord convincing Him to open the store houses of blessing seems foreign to us because we think so highly of God's ordered and planned world. Who are we to break in and disturb Him!? And what need is enough to justify the interruption?  Isn’t it the case that our sin so often separates us from the Savior simply because in our shame of it, the Devil takes his foothold, and convinces us that we cannot now approach him!  The very thought of it, is repulsive – but it is an evil thought!  For our Lord receives sinners! 

The picture we are presented with in Luke is not predetermined. Here we see a friend unwilling to help his friend because of the time of day, yet persuaded to help because of persistence. Often it is presented therefore that we ought to persist in prayer.  Persistence is good – but it is not persistence which persuades our loving Lord. But it is faith. A faith rooted in a relationship. Look at verse 13 again, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? 

This leper came to Christ before his cleansing.  Yet even outside of the relationship – Christ has compassion!  This is an absolutely stunning revelation.  In the same way which the Devil tells believers their sin is too great to now approach the Savior, he does likewise with those unbelievers who think, maybe – if I can just come to Him…   Christ receives sinners!  Come now – drink of the water of life freely – it’s available you know!

Beloved, we who know Him, and the kind generous Father that He is – ought we not call upon Him in faith, persistently, as needs arise?

Shouldn't we trust him to answer?

Will he give a stone, or a serpent, or a scorpion?

[1] Referencing I.H. Marshall’s Commentary on Luke. Page 208.
[2] Gill, John. An Exposition of the New Testament. Vol. 1. London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809. Print. The Baptist Commentary Series.
[3] Farrar, Frederick. Life of Christ, V. 1 p. 275. E. P. Dutton & Company. New York. 1891

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