St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

If You are Willing, You Can Make Me Clean!

Sermon on Mark 1:40-45
Text: A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
     41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said.  “Be clean!”  42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
     43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone.  But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.  As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
     “Wash your hands before you eat!”  How many times haven’t you heard or said those words?  By doing this, you get rid of the dirt and grime that have collected on us.  Have you ever been embarrassed by someone coming to the door before you had the chance to clean up?  You would have preferred to have had a chance to clean yourself up.  Today, we’re going to see a man who was cleansed, but not from dirt, but from the horrible disease of leprosy.    As we study this account, we will also be reminded of the fact that we have been cleansed.  We echo the leper’s words, “IF YOU ARE WILLING, YOU CAN MAKE ME CLEAN!”  We will see that 1.  Jesus Willingly Cleansed Us and we are encouraged to 2. Testify About It.
     In our text we read (v. 40) “A man with leprosy came to [Jesus] and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’” This man suffered from leprosy.  Leprosy was a skin disease with varying degrees of severity.  It could have been as little as psoriasis to the terminal disease that disfigured limbs and face.  We don’t now how much or to what degree of leprosy this man had.
     However, the type of leprosy is not important.  Even the slightest amount was all that was necessary to have you condemned as a leper.  Because of it, you were ceremonially unclean.  You were separated from your family and friends.  You had to go and live elsewhere, cut off from other people.  You had to stay there until you were cleansed, which did not happen often, since there was no known cure, or until you died.  This skin disease that would soon spread to your entire body marked the time when you would be separated from all those around you.
     In some ways, leprosy is a picture of our natural condition.  When we have it, we are separated from God.  There is no cure that we can apply to ourselves.  Having it surely means that we will die.  What is this natural spiritual condition that we are talking about?  The natural spiritual condition is that of being a sinner.  Just as leprosy separated the person from others, so we read in Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”  Because of our sin, we are separated from God’s love.  Just so that we can see that this applies to us and not just other people, let’s take a few moments and examine our lives.  Can we always say that we have given God top priority in our lives?  Don’t say, ‘Well, no one else has either!’  That’s true enough, but what others have or haven’t done really doesn’t matter.  The fact is, since you have sinned, you are, by nature, separated from God’s love.
     Unlike leprosy, which was not always terminal, sin is.  It always is deadly.  It always means spending an eternity in hell.  By nature, we are in a far more desperate situation than the leper in our text.
     This leper came to Jesus and, kneeling in front of him, said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  What a testimony to this man’s faith!  He believed that Jesus was the almighty Son of God.  As he knelt before Jesus, he knew that Jesus could help him.  What he did not know was whether or not Jesus was willing to do so.  He humbly resigned himself to the will of the one who is infinitely wise.
     What was Jesus’ reaction to this man?  In verse 41, it says, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.  ‘I am willing,’ he said.  ‘Be clean!’” The words that said that Jesus was filled with compassion in the Greek have the idea of having a gut wrenching feeling.  We might say he was brokenhearted.  Then Jesus did something that was unthinkable in those days.  He reached out his hand and touched the man.  This was just not done.  A commentator writes regarding leprosy and the treatment of those who had it, “No one was allowed to salute the leper.  No less than 4 cubits (6 feet) must be kept from the leper; or if the wind came from that direction, a hundred was scarcely enough.  One rabbi would not eat an egg purchased in the street where there was a leper.  Another rabbi boasted that he always threw stones at them to keep them far off, while others hid or ran away.”  However, Jesus didn’t act that way.  He didn’t cleanse first and then touch.  Jesus didn’t recoil from touching the lowest of the low in order to cleanse him.  Out of compassion for the leper, Jesus touched him and with his mighty word, he cleansed the man.  The leprosy was gone.
     How comforting this is for us!  By nature, we sit in our sins.  We are anything but lovable or cute.  However, that did not stop Jesus from reaching out to us.  In his love, he reached out to us before we were cleansed from our sins.  In our filthy rottenness, Jesus came to us.  He came to us when he was born into this world to be our Savior.  He lived as God wanted us to do.  Jesus then further reached out to us when his arms were stretched out on the cross.  There he suffered the punishment of hell, so that you and I would never have to.  Jesus showed that death had no mastery over him, when he rose from the dead on the third day.  Jesus reached out in love to all people.
     Jesus also reached into each one of our lives individually when he sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to create a faith which trusts in Jesus as our Savior.  Because of this faith, this trust in Jesus, we have been cleansed; the leprosy of sin is gone.  Just as Jesus said to the leper, “I am willing.  Be clean!,” so also he has said to you and me, ‘I willingly cleansed you.’  What greater love could ever have been shown to us?  What greater compassion?  In love, Jesus has cleansed us.
     Now we note that, after Jesus cleansed the man, he “sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone.’” At first, we might be surprised at Jesus’ words.  Some might suggest that Jesus was using reverse psychology on the man and, when he told him not to tell others, he was making the man want to tell others.  However, this was not the case at all.  Jesus did not want the man to spread what had happened to him.  We can see the meaning behind Jesus’ words, when we see what happened when the man, with the best of intentions, went and told others.  We read in verse 45, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.”  Because of this, Jesus’ kingdom work had to be put on hold for a while.    Jesus was forced to seek refuge in lonely places because his popularity increased.  Perhaps more and more people were looking to Jesus for medical reasons, but had little interest in him as a Savior.  This popularity would also mean increased opposition from the religious leaders.  Although Jesus had told this man not to, he testified to the cleansing that he had received.
     Here we find a difference between our situation and that of the leprous man.  Whereas Jesus told him not to tell anyone, he tells us in Matthew 28:19&20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Jesus wants us to go and testify to others about the cleansing that we have received.
     How often hasn’t it happened that you or someone you knew tried a medical product, especially if it is an over the counter product, and, if it has positive results, you tell others about this great discovery.  Well, if we do that for something that makes our stomachs feel better or helps our joints or whatever the case might be, doesn’t it make sense that we would want to share the good news about something that really can help.  In 1 John 1:7 we read, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  We have been cleansed.  We have been cured from our terminal case of sin.  How many are there out there who don’t know that there is a cure?  How many are trying anything to soothe their troubled consciences?  How many feel the pain of their sins?  You have the answer.  You know where the cleansing, the cure can be found.  It is only in Jesus.  Jesus is willing to cleanse all.  He does not recoil at the touch of these people.  He willingly cleansed us.  Now, out of love and thankfulness to Christ, and out of love for others, we can tell them about Jesus’ love for them.  We also take note of the fact that there is no person that Jesus doesn’t want to forgive.  Just as he was willing to touch one who was a social outcast because of his leprosy, there is no person that is beneath Jesus’ care and concern.  May we remember that as we go out with the good news.  There is no such thing as “church people.”    God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.  May this same spirit fill us, as well.
     The old saying goes, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  However, as we have seen from our text today, ‘Cleanliness comes from God himself.’  Jesus willingly cleansed you and me.  Now he asks us to tell others about it.  May God, when the opportunity presents itself, fill us with the willingness to take advantage of it.  Amen.