Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 8:2b “. . .and worshipped him,. . .”
The leper, falling flat at the Master’s feet, did what the throng should have done. The whole crowd should have fallen before Jesus in absolute worship. Their minds were awed, but this is never enough. The heart must be yielded. Submission of the inner man is what matters. Scribes and Pharisees were impressive and religious on the outside, but rotten within. This leper was rotten on the outside, but reverent within; and Jesus sees the heart. Always be sure all is well on the inside.
Matt. 8:2c “. . .saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst. . .”
Having heard Jesus say, “Use not vain repetitions” (6:7), the leper was brief and to the point. Also, in an instant, the crowd could turn ugly and angry, and pelt him with rocks. His mission was urgent, and he sensed he had no time to waste.
The leper did not doubt Jesus’ power. Having listened to rumors about the Healer, and having heard Him speak with authority, the leper had heard enough to convince him. If Jesus wanted to heal, He could. The only unknown is Jesus’ will.
This leper understood authority. He knew he needed authority exerted in his life, and also realized, before he could receive authority, he had to come under authority. He knew he had no right to demand anything of Jesus, and simply wanted to know, “Is it in the purview of your mission to heal lepers?” He let Jesus decide.
Are we willing to trust Jesus this much? In matters of physical healing, we cannot be sure of God’s will. His glory and our good have to be weighed, and only He can accurately assess these concerns. What we ask for is not always God’s will.
We all believe God has power to heal. Our dilemma is convincing ourselves, when God says no, His will is still not only Sovereign, but also loving. We find it easier to believe in God’s miraculous power than in His unfailing love. His no is as loving as His yes. Only in this knowledge can we truly pray, “Thy will be done.”
The leper set himself under Christ’s authority. Have we? We are not our own, but slaves bought with a price. When was the last time we prayed, and truly meant, “Lord, do with me as You will.” Victory came to Jacob, not when he was wrestling, but when he was only clinging. Once he had given up the fight against God, and was holding on to God for dear life, only then did the blessing come. May we all learn a lesson from a humble, yielded leper bowed low at Jesus’ feet.
Matt. 8:2d “. . .make me clean.”
It is significant that he said, “Make me clean,” not “Make me well.” “Clean” reflects the Jewish view of leprosy being pollution. The sickness was not as bad as the stigma. The man wanted to go back to his town, people, family, and synagogue.
Knowing his need, he asked for only one thing–to be made clean. He required deep cleansing. Leprosy made people sick from head to toe and rooted itself deep in the system. Thus, the leper needed help way down in the core of his being.
The leper’s diagnosis was accurate for him, and also for all of us. Our worst disease is our own selves. We need help down deep. It is easy to admit Jesus is the Savior of the world, yet feel no need for Him as our personal Savior. On the other hand, at the opposite extreme, many think He is Savior of the world, but deem their own case beyond remedy. They think something puts them past the reach of Christ.
Hear ye! Jesus’ power is more than equal to the task of healing the worst cases of spiritual disease. Never feel too unclean to come to Jesus. No one should ever feel incurable in spirit as long as Jesus exists. He saved a dying thief who had nothing to offer in return. Peter lied and denied, but Jesus forgave and restored him. Saul persecuted believers, but was forgiven. Jesus can forgive you, too.
Matt. 8:3a “And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him,. . .”
This is one of the most amazing lines ever written. We would have expected, Jesus put forth his hand to shoo the leper away, to warn him to come no farther, to keep him at arm’s length, to indicate he had neither time nor inclination to help. However, Christ did not turn away and run, nor did He tell the leper to leave.
Instead, Jesus touched the leper. This touch would have meant everything to a lonely, despised outcast. The leper had probably forgotten what it felt like to be touched by a well person. He had long walked alone, feeling no embrace from wife, child, or friend. Jesus’ touch knocked down years of cruelly erected barriers.
Jesus could have healed with only a thought or a word, but felt this would not be enough. He needed to heal more than only a disease. He needed to heal a hurt, an isolation. “Moved with compassion” (MK 1:41), He felt compelled to make a statement on His deep, abiding love for the leper and all others who suffer like him.
Everyone else in this crowd was closing their eyes, looking away, running the opposite way, preparing to throw rocks if the leper came closer. Jewish law said to keep lepers six feet away, but they might as well have been light years apart.
No one else would touch this leper. Scribes and Pharisees for sure wouldn’t, nor would the twelve disciples. Where were Peter, James, and John? Probably running for cover. Lest we be too critical of them, I remind us we often do the same thing. We too will not touch certain people Jesus wants to touch. I urge us to take a new look around the office or school tomorrow. The very ones we have in the past least wanted to be around or to be seen with, let’s try to see them as Jesus does.
We conservative, Bible-believing Christians have often had II Corinthians 6:17 pounded into our brains, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” Our misinterpretation of this verse has caused us to build walls between ourselves and those who need the Gospel the most. We obviously are not to mingle with the world on their terms and turf (for example, let’s meet at a tavern), but are to mingle with them on our terms and turf (for example, let’s meet at my house or at church).
We tend to be repulsed by spiritual lepers, but our Master still loves them and wants to touch them. He can now accomplish the latter only through our hands.
He still wants to descend from the mount of worship into the valley of service. Thus we must go from this gathering of praise to find the needy. Christ our Model spoke to multitudes on the mount, but took time to care for a hurting individual. Jesus was not so taken with the masses that He had no time for personal needs.
His example in this regard is why churches must always find ways to stay small even as they grow larger. Large worship services are not enough to meet people’s needs. The celebration must never displace the cell. Only in small groups can a church hope to meet the needs of all its members. Jesus’ ministry was marked by large assemblies and small groups. Both were conspicuous. Multitudes were on the mount, one leper in the valley. He fed 5000, yet healed Peter’s mother-in-law. There were one hundred twenty in the upper room, but only twelve disciples. Three thousand were saved at Pentecost, but only one Ethiopian Eunuch in the desert.
Our Christian experience is incomplete without involvement in a small group where needs are met. We may say we do not need any help, all our needs are met elsewhere. Since when is the main consideration for Christians what we can get out of it? This is egocentricism at its worst. We can sit in a crowd of hundreds for years and never help a soul. In the small group we learn of needs we can help meet.
We must create situations or find settings wherein we are forced to have contact with spiritual lepers. We are to be extensions of Christ’s love, and “love cannot live at arm’s length” (Buttrick). Thus the Great Commission forces us to go, to find, touch, see, smell, and feel the unlovely. Love is never dainty and ever daring.