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. (1:40)
And He cleansed lepers. As far as we know, only three lepers were cleansed throughout the entire Old Testament period — Moses, Miriam, and Naaman (and possibly David). But Jesus cleansed them as a matter of course.
Leprosy! The very word filled people with horror. The Jews regarded it as “the stroke of God.” The leper carried about in his body corruption, contamination, and death. Society ostracized and rigidly segregated him lest he contaminate others of the community. If anyone wandered into his vicinity, he had to cover his mouth and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn the other person away. He was excommunicated from the religious life, functions, and feasts of the nation. His only companions were other lepers in the same pitiable condition as himself. He could not work because who would want the goods and services of a leper? He could not come and go as he pleased. He endured a living death, because his disease spread and was incurable. Often, it began in a small way. He lost the feeling in his fingers, in his feet, and in his limbs. Before long, he presented a dreadful spectacle with rotted stumps where once had been healthy limbs. He had no hope. He was cut off from his family, from his former friends, and from the fellowship of the people of God. All he could look forward to was death. No wonder leprosy is often viewed as a type and picture of sin.
This man was a leper, but he was one who had made a wise decision; he would come to Christ. He would defy the interdict under which he lived. He would dare the thunderous edicts and penalties of the law; he would come to Christ.
Acting on that decision took a great deal of courage. For one thing, crowds always surrounded Jesus, and who could predict the actions of a crowd? The man might well have been stoned long before he reached the Christ. So what? He was dying anyway. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Possibly his fellow lepers tried to dissuade him because none of them accompanied him. No matter! He would come. And so it was that he commenced his lonely journey to Jesus. And behold! A path opened up before him. The disciples, “bold” enough to chase away the mothers and children who sought to come to Christ, were not so forward in chasing away this leper. On the contrary, we can be sure that when they saw him coming, heard his leper’s cry, and saw the crowds parting before him, they kept their distance. They would want to keep well enough away from a leper!
This man did not approach Christ with the modern proud “Name it! Claim it!” attitude. He had too great an appreciation of his terrible condition to come, like Naaman, demanding salvation. On the contrary, he came beseeching, “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” That was flawless faith.
We note, also, his cleansing (1:41-43):
And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (1:41)
In all probability, some people there were moved with criticism: “Of all the nerve! A man like that! Coming to Christ indeed! He should be ashamed of himself! He ought to be stoned. He’s a public menace.” But Jesus was moved with compassion. He was able to identify Himself with the unhappy man whose life had been so ruined and ravaged by this “stroke of God.” He would touch him, transform him, and, thereafter, forever identify him with Himself.
The whole scene is a microcosm of the plan of salvation. It was the Lord’s infinite compassion and wondrous saving power that made “so great salvation” possible. He touched this wretched man. That was love in action. Not since he became known as a leper had anyone deliberately touched him.
There was something else too. Jesus “saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.” That was “the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). Who else but God could speak worlds into being, command light to shine, or order the distribution of land or sea (Gen. 1)? Who else but God could command a leper to be clean? This was
. . . the same Almighty word Chaos and darkness heard, And took their flight . . .
in the early dawn of time. Only now “the Word was made flesh,” and Deity was robed in Humanity. “I will!” Jesus said, “Be clean.” Just like that!
And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. (1:42)
Throughout his gospel, Mark seems to have been impressed by the swiftness with which the Lord’s commands were obeyed. He spoke! It was done! There was no long and painful surgery; no protracted convalescence; no extended course of treatment; no stretched-out regime of therapy, exercise, and diet; and no medicine to be taken four times a day for months on end. There was instant cleansing for the leper, instant cure for the diseased, instant life for the dead, instant sight for the blind, and instant expulsion of demons. And there was instant cancellation of sin.
That is the difference between religion and regeneration. Religion has an agenda. It calls for meritorious good works, for fasts and flagellation, for rites and rituals, for penance and pilgrimages, for sacrifices and self-denials, for priests and payments. But religion never yet cleansed a leper or gave a guilty conscience peace.
Such is religion. All religions are born of human ingenuity, philosophy, and wisdom, and all religions are the same — salvation must be earned, purchased by good work. By contrast, regeneration (what John and Peter call “the new birth”) is instantaneous, miraculous, and eternal. “As soon as he had spoken,” says Mark, “immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.”
We note, also, his commission (1:43-45), and how it was delivered (1:43-44):
And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away; (1:43)
Having cleansed the leper, Jesus sent him away. The modern so-called “faith healer” would have kept him around as a useful advertisement. He could be put on the platform to give his testimony. He would draw the crowds. That, however, was the very thing that Jesus wanted to avoid. The Jerusalem crowds, which would shout, “Hosanna!” one day, would just as readily shout, “Crucify!” the next day. So Jesus gave this cleansed leper his orders and sent him away. That was as much for the man’s own good as for any other reason.
Nowadays we make heroes out of notable celebrities who get saved. We lionize them, put them on the platform and on national television, get them to give their testimonies, tout them all over the country, put them on talk shows, and praise them and applaud them. What they really need is quiet and seclusion, a small group fellowship, and time to grow in grace and increase in the knowledge of God. “Lay hands suddenly on no man” is a sound biblical principle (1 Tim. 5:22). So Jesus sent the man away. That must have astonished the disciples — perhaps by now, though, they were getting used to the Lord’s unorthodox methods.
And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, skew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them. (1:44)
The Lord not only sent the man home but also told him not to talk about his healing. One thing he must do, however; he must present himself to the priest that he might be legally certified clean by the representative of the Mosaic Law. Also, the priest himself needed to know that this unusual Messiah was a healer indeed!
The instructions for a leper who was cleansed are spelled out in intricate detail in Leviticus 14. The whole procedure took more than a week. The man was restored at once to the Hebrew family, but he had to wait until the first day of a new week before he could be restored to the fellowship of God’s people.
It is understandable, perhaps, and not at all unusual, that this newly cleansed man did not do what the Lord commanded. Instead, he began to tell everyone about the transforming miracle in his life. Nowadays we would applaud a new convert for doing that. In this man’s case, however, his testimony was counterproductive.
We note, also, his commission and how it was disregarded:
But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter. (1:45)
Jesus sent the newly cleansed leper to the priest, but he went to the people, or, as we would say today, “he went public.” Perhaps he was on his way to the priest. Doubtless, he was so thrilled with his cleansing that he was bursting to tell people. Maybe some people recognized him and wanted to know what he was doing out of the leper colony.
In any case, he was sidetracked. Instead of getting out of sight for the prescribed period of inspection, separation, and instruction, he became a flaming evangelist.
The Lord, however, always knows best. This man needed the wonderful teaching inherent in the ritual for the cleansing of the leper. Had he obeyed the Lord, he would have been a wiser man when it was over. As it was, however, the Lord’s work was hindered. Such crowds resulted that the Lord Himself could not get into the city, and a “revival” without the Lord was not going to last very long. We would be pleased with such enthusiastic crowds today. We would congratulate ourselves on our success. But the Lord was hindered, and He was not in all of this superficial excitement.
He was hindered but not halted! He retired to “desert places.” The people now had to seek Him on His terms. And so they did. They came to Him from all over. And there in the calm stillness of the wilderness, He carried on His work.
In Mark’s account, it did not take long for opposition to the Lord to begin to surface. His critics soon found fault with His method (2:1-12), His men (2:1328), and His ministry (3:1-6).
Mark 2 begins with the Lord back “in the house,” presumably Peter’s house. At once the house was mobbed by people, eager to hear the Lord’s teaching and hoping, no doubt, to see some more miracles. Peter’s house had never been so popular! The crowds filled his living room, jammed the doorway, spilled over into his yard, and thronged the street so that only with the greatest difficulty could anyone move.
And hemmed in by this heaving mass of people was Jesus. Not much can be done with a mob, even a friendly one, but Jesus took advantage of the presence of the crowd to preach. “He preached the word unto them” (2:2). Peter doesn’t seem to remember what He preached — at least Mark doesn’t tell us. Perhaps He told them a story from their Old Testament Scriptures. Perhaps He told about Moses and his multitudes, or about Elijah and his multitudes on Mt. Carmel. Or maybe He borrowed the language of the prophet and talked about those multiplied multitudes “in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). In any case, we can be sure that He looked with compassion on those multitudes and saw them “as sheep not having a shepherd” (Mark 6:34) and loved them and taught them the Word of God from a full heart.
Adapted from Exploring the Gospel of Mark: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607.
John Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling Green, KY.