Bible Readings: Matthew 4:23-25, Matthew 8:1-4
The title of my message today is the Healing and restoration of the Leper. 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.
Today I want to I will look at some of the background teachings and contexts, then I will bring out some applications points that we can reflect on for today.
Breakdown and teaching on the text
Jesus came down out of the hills, where the Sermon on the Mount had been delivered, the great crowds still followed Him. There would have been many reasons why people would have followed Jesus. Some would have been amazed by His teaching. 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.
In verse two Jesus comes in contact with the 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. 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”. 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 with leprosy and religious Jews would not become ritually unclean. If it were in Our town today, they would have to live outside the town area where no-one could come in contact with them. Maybe behind the Peak. They would not be able to come into to town, to work, to come to church, or to see their family. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation today. For most of us our whole worlds revolve around these things.
In verse 2 we see this man “knelt” before Jesus in the NIV. The Greek world for knelt in the text, (pros-koo-neh-o), can also mean “worshiped.” Some translations actually translate it as “knelt and worshiped Jesus”. We also see in the passage the man used the title “Lord”. The word in Greek (koo-ree-os) means Lord, Master, Supreme Authority or Ruler. So we can see from these two things he held Jesus in high regard. The leper both knelt and worshiped Jesus and called Him Master. It was not a casual question asking for healing.
In verse 3 we also see this in the statement “If you are willing”. It reflects the leper’s great faith. We saw in the first reading that Jesus had already been teaching, preaching and healing all over the region and many people had already followed Him. The leper had no question about Jesus’ healing powers. The leper knew Jesus already had the authority and power to heal, He only needed to decide and act and his healing would come.
By touching an unclean leper, Jesus would become defiled and unclean according to Jewish custom (see Leviticus 13-14). But as Christians we know that when Jesus’ touches something, it cannot remain defiled or unclean. Far from becoming unclean Himself, Jesus makes the unclean leper clean and He makes him whole. We see that both Jesus’ words – I am willing – and Jesus’ touch are effective in showing the power and authority and healing of God. The Leper was healed and restored.
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. It is interesting to note that in the Mark and Luke versions of the story, the man went and told everyone and did not show himself to the Priest.
So we see this miracle healing was done by Jesus out of compassion for the Leper and in response to his request, 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.
So what can we learn from this passage? What can we use today? There are two things that both encourage and challenge me.
1. We need to bring our problems 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 are eight recorded miracles of Jesus.
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 and brought a miracle. For the Leper, Jesus was able to make the man 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.
The miracles in Matthew chapters 8 and 9 covered all things. There were healings, demons were caste out, a storm was calmed, and someone was even raised to life. Nothing is impossible for Jesus. Absolutely nothing. All things are possible to them that believes. If you are struggling with something today, bring it to Jesus in prayer. Come like the leper did, come humbly to the Master knowing He can intervene.
2. We see that Jesus did not 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. He didn’t treat people as outcasts, not even lepers. Many times He healed and restored them to community life.
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. And there is no way someone would be seen with a leper. Jewish culture saw it as a curse from God.
But as we know, 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.
Many of us have probably heard about Mother Theresa and her work in the slums of Calcutta. Daily she dealt with the poorest of the poor. She even tended to lepers. Mother Teresa said this about serving God – “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” Seeing Jesus in the face of every person helped her to keep going when many others didn’t.
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 outcasts. He wants to embrace and heal them. He wants to do it through us. Jesus wants us to be His hands and feet to serve, His mouth to speak life, His heart to love and His arms to bring comfort. This is the person I want to be. WWJD – What would Jesus do? WSID – What should I do? WSWD – What should we do? We can’t treat people as outcasts, we need to embrace them in the way Jesus did and invite them to be part of our community.
So today as we move on to a time of fellowship, let us remember these two things for the healing of the Leper…
1. That we can bring all our problems to Jesus and He can help us. Nothing is impossible for Him.
2. That Jesus didn’t treat people like outcasts, He healed and welcomed them back to community.