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Mark 1:40-42 A man healed

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, September 4, 2021

Jesus Heals a Leper

40 A leper came to Jesus. He knelt down and begged him, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “I am willing,” he told him. “Be clean.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was healed.

The second part of this account, which we have not yet quoted, is for many people the more interesting and perplexing part, since Jesus sternly warns the man (ἐμβριμάoμαι) not to tell anyone about it. We will return to that point and meditate on it next time. But just now, we should give ourselves to the verses before us, and marvel at the miracle and the one who performed it without any effort.

Leprosy had various forms. It’s not necessary to horrify our children by describing its worst forms. Some think that in Old Testament times there was not yet any case of true leprosy, but recent archaeological findings in India trace the earliest known case to about 2000 BC.

I have written about leprosy and its forms several times in devotions on Leviticus 13, 2 Kings 5, Matthew 8 and 10, and Luke 5. I think that it’s especially important to note that a person with leprosy was considered unclean, and that physical contact with such a person was forbidden. There were conventions that God ordained about people with leprosy: “He must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). Leprosy was an outward sign of sin. It was a visible infection in the body.

This man of Galilee met Jesus and instantly showed his humility by bowing. Luke describes him as falling with his face to the ground (Luke 5:12). And he prayed to Jesus. The prayer is simple and to the point: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The first word, “Lord,” is omitted by Mark but evident from the man’s prostrate posture. He regarded Jesus as Lord by his actions and by the rest of what he said.

“If you are willing.” That is, if it is your will. Everything that happens in the world apart from sin is the will of God. The leper acknowledged that God, Jesus Christ, was able to heal him if it was simply a part of his will. There is no other requirement, no mumbo-jumbo, no “evidence of thaumaturgy” as some of those who descend into the deeps of the rabbit holes of speculation sometimes conjure up. This leper knew that he was face-to-face with the One, the Creator. This was God, who brought everything into being through his will and the spoken word: the very stuff of existence. He made water and air, the roof of the sky and the many objects that wheel as a grand clock and calendar above, the land upon which we stand, growing things, flying and swimming things, animals of all kinds, the angels to serve his purposes, and finally mankind, for whom all these things were brought into being.

“You can make me clean.” Even the man’s word choice shows his faith. He didn’t ask to be cured or healed (Mark 3:2). He asked to be made clean. To be cured would allow him to re-enter society again. To be clean would allow him to re-enter the temple again. He wanted to be able to worship, to sacrifice, to pray in the very courts of the Lord. He was quoting with his desire the words: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2). In the old Lutheran Commentary, Professor Schaeffer said: “This prayer is short, avoiding vain repetitions. It is sincere, proceeding from the heart. It is humble, for the leper is conscious that he has no claim nor right to any divine gift. It prevails, since it is made in faith.’

Jesus healed the man. He also spoke and touched him. But the leper was right the first time. It was only a matter of Jesus’ will and nothing else. Had be been bound or gagged, the Lord would surely have healed him just the same.

St. Ambrose, a fourth century pastor in Milan, Italy, found three heresies refuted in this miracle, and these are worth repeating here, although of course they are not the main point:

1, Jesus said, “I will.” This is against Photinus who held that Christ was merely a man.

2, Jesus used the imperative when he said, “Be clean.” This is against Arius, who denied the deity of Christ and his equality with the Father.

3, Jesus touched the man. This was against the Manichaeans (and Docetists) who regarded Jesus as a phantom with no real body.

To this we might possibly add:

4, Jesus responded “I am willing” even though the man came to him directly and not through the Levites, the Priests, or even the Apostles. This was against those who encourage people to pray not to God directly, but to the saints and others. Since prayer is a form of worship, we also maintain that a prayer to anyone who is not God is idolatry, even though people who advocate for it usually try to soften their position by insisting that they are merely calling on more people to intercede for them. But there is neither any command nor example of this in Scripture.

The man was healed by Jesus. What happened to the leprosy? It “left him.” It was no more. Jesus had banished his weakness, “health and wholeness sending” (Hymn “Father We Praise You,” verse 2). This is what happens when he forgives us, as well. He sends our sins away. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Remember this when you approach God in prayer for forgiveness. He is compassionate and loving. Set aside your sins, and ask him to help you do it. He will not ignore you. He knows that for a sinner to ask him for help with a specific sin is a humiliating, difficult, heart-wrenching thing. Who wants to go to God in prayer and bring up our worst sins, least of all the one troubling us, me, right at this moment? But thanks be to God. He will help you through your temptation. He hears, he heals, he forgives.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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