A Leper Cleansed
“And it came to pass, when he was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus, fell on his face, and besought him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And he put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him. And he charged him to tell no man: but go, and shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing, according as Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. But so much the more went there a fame abroad of him: and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities. And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed.”—Luke 5:12–16
In this wonderful miracle of our Lord—a miracle duplicated many times in His ministry on Earth—we find Him dealing with a man afflicted with leprosy, which is used in Scripture to illustrate the disease of sin. There are four things to be said of leprosy that are all true of sin. First, it is a constitutional disease; secondly, it is a loathsome disease; thirdly, it is an infectious disease; and lastly, so far as human power of healing was concerned, in the days of old, it was an incurable disease. In our day, science has discovered ways to cure it if taken in time, and to alleviate the suffering of those who have been ill longer. But in Bible times, no such method was known. God alone could undertake for the leper; that is what made the miracle of the Lord so significant.
Leprosy is a constitutional disease and in that it pictures man’s sinful state by nature. You see the trouble with all mankind is not that they become sinners by sinning, but they sin because they are sinners. We are born in sin and are shapen in iniquity. The virus of sin is in our being from the moment we draw our first breath. We readily disobey God and go from one sin to another because of the sinful nature with which we are born. We do not all sin in exactly the same way, but the Scriptures say that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
I remember reading some years ago in a medical journal of a dance which was held in the city of Calcutta, India, where there were many beautiful ladies, noblemen, people of wealth and culture. One young woman, the belle of the evening, was dancing with a Scottish doctor. He said when he brought her back to her seat, “May I have a word with you? I hope you won’t take offense. I couldn’t help but notice it, but upon your shoulder there is a certain spot. Has it been there long?” The young lady’s face colored. “Yes, doctor, it appeared some months ago and it has bothered me considerably.” He said, “I wish you would come down and see me tomorrow. I would like to call in a specialist along a certain line and have him look at this spot.” The young lady was rather frightened, but she did as he asked and the next day after a thorough examination of the spot, she received word that she had the disease of leprosy. One little spot upon her shoulder and yet the disease was working within, and it would soon be manifested more and more and that beautiful body would be marked and scarred.
Isn’t that just like sin? And yet so often it seems to be such a little thing to begin with; some habit which one knows is not right, so insignificant, and it grows and grows until at last sin is manifested in all its terrible corruptness. A little sin leads to something worse and it increases until it is emphasized in the whole life and is a spiritual form of leprosy.
Leprosy is one of the most loathsome of all diseases and sin is loathsome. It is the most loathsome thing in the entire universe of God. It is the one thing which has blighted the whole universe, broken millions of hearts and brought dishonor to God, the One who created the world. There is nothing in His sight so hateful as sin. We are told in the book of Proverbs that “fools make a mock of sin, but among the righteous there is favour.” Many are the foolish, careless, frivolous folk, who say, “A short life is a merry one,” and “We might as well get all the enjoyment we can and indulge in every evil,” they do not seem to realize the loathsomeness of sin.
Leprosy is an infectious disease. One might easily pass it on to others by contact with them and that was why the leper, when once discovered, was sent away from his friends and family. He had to dwell apart in the wilderness. The Old Testament regulations were very strict. He had to present himself before a priest to be examined, and if found to be leprous he was obliged to remain without the camp, for from the dwellings of healthy folk. He had to put a cover on his upper lip and cry, “Unclean, unclean.” That is God’s picture of the sinner. Separated from others, you see, because he might infect them. Those who live in sin are continually infecting others, for “one sinner destroyeth much good.” Yet in every heart is this virus working, until checked by divine grace.
Leprosy was an incurable disease in olden times and sin is incurable so far as human help is concerned. Scientists and philosophers have tried to evolve plans and schemes which might rid the human race of sin, but today, in spite of all their work and effort, sin reigns, and ruins as heretofore. We are as wicked a people as mankind has ever been. No cure has been invented but the divine one, and that is the mighty power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was no possibility of mistaking this case. Leprosy was openly manifested. Some men’s sins are open. In some men they are not so evident. We have no difficulty in recognizing that broken-down drunkard as a sinner. The licentious man’s evil habits soon become evident to all. Some are able to keep their sins covered like a leper covering his body with beautiful clothing. But God sees and knows all our wickedness and is going to deal with every man according to His Word.
However, no matter how sinful or vile we have become, no matter how polluted or unclean our hearts may be, there is healing and cleansing if we will but come to our blessed Lord, who is as ready today to deliver from sin, its guilt and its power, as He as to heal and save those who came to Him of old. No case is too bad for Christ. George Whitefield used to cry out sometimes, “My friends, Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.” This expression gave great offence to Lady Huntingdon, who was a warm friend of Whitefield’s as also of the Wesleys, but she thought the expression savored of irreverence and was not becoming on the lips of a Gospel preacher. She is reported to have taken Whitefield to task for it, and he listened humbly and then sometime later asked one who had been converted through his ministry to go and see her Ladyship and give her the story of his conversion. He told her how he had been down in the very depths of sin—a drunkard and a blasphemer, until at last he felt the only thing left was suicide; he would rather risk unending misery in the world to come than continue in the awful wretchedness which sin had brought into his life here. And so with this in mind he was on his way early one morning to thrown himself into the Thames River and end it all, as he thought, when, passing by Moorfields, he saw a great throng gathered at that early hour, and found they were listening to the great field preacher, George Whitefield. Drawing near to the outskirts of the crowd, he heard the stentorian voice of the evangelist exclaim, “My friends, Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.” It went home to his heart and he came to Christ. As Lady Huntingdon listened to the story, tears filled her eyes, and when she met Whitefield again she said to him, “Do not be afraid to tell them that Jesus will take even the devil’s castaways.”
We are told here that Jesus put forth His hand and touched the leper. Had he been but an ordinary man, such contact would have made Him ceremonially unclean, but instead of that the leper was immediately cleansed, and the Lord Jesus commanded him to go to the temple and offer for his cleansing according as Moses had given instruction. This instruction is found in the fourteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus. Perhaps never before had any priest in Israel for hundreds of years had a cleansed leper come to him in order that this service might be carried out. Jesus said it was to be for a testimony unto them, and how much it must have meant when a man thus healed came to the priest and asked him to examine him carefully, and then to offer the sacrifices as prescribed in this chapter. In the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus we read how the priests were to diagnose cases of leprosy and undoubtedly they had to refer to this portion of the Word many, many times, for there were large numbers of lepers in Israel in those days. But possibly the fourteenth chapter was practically a dead letter, as there had never been an occasion for any of them to carry it out. What a testimony it must have been then when this leper, and in the months to follow many others, came to the temple in order to be officially pronounced clean and restored to the congregation of the Lord. One is not surprised to turn to the book of Acts later on and read, “A great company of priests were obedient to the faith.” They had known so many cases of the power of the Lord Jesus to heal that they must have realized, particularly after they learned of His resurrection from the dead, that He was in very truth the promised Messiah of Israel.