When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.And Jesus said to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them." - Matthew 8: 1-4 (ESV)
Leprosy is a disease that has been known since biblical times. It causes skin sores, nerve damage, and muscle weakness that gets worse over time. The skin sores can be quite debilitating and repulsive in appearance. The nerve damage, while unseen, causes serious compounding problems over time. This includes neuropathies which can cause the person to no longer be able to even discern pain. The muscle weakness is progressive and grows worse as the condition remains untreated. It is an infection caused by bacteria and is easily treated today with antibiotics. In the days of Jesus however, there were no antibiotics. Leprosy was a condition that people lived in, progressed in, and died in. In addition to the disease, they were ostracized from the community as being "unclean." Adding psychological damage to the physical indignities.
While leprosy itself is no longer a concern there are certainly leprous conditions we have to contend with in our soul. Sin lurks within our faith with similar results as the bacterial infection of old. Unrepentant sin causes sores in our spirit that can be debilitating and repulsive in appearance. Not on the outside but how we view ourselves. The enemy whispering in our ear about how far we fall short of the mark. The unseen damage compounding daily as we wallow instead of turn from it; like the nerve damage of leprosy. After awhile we can even experience spiritual neuropathy; where we feel less and less of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Over time the gradual affect is that we grow weaker and weaker as Christians. This despite the promises of God:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1John 1: 9 (ESV)
God is always willing beloved. He is always faithful. He is always just. Looking at the story today from the key verses we can learn the simplicity of the forgiveness that is always available to us. We see four elements from this leper that we must incorporate in our walk with Christ. Sin is always crouching at the door. We are still sinners by nature. Do not fall for hyper-grace heresy that takes our eternal position of righteousness in Christ and tries to apply it to our temporal condition. Our actual state of righteousness is but filthy rags if not for the blood of Christ. Let us look at the four elements from this leper:
And behold, a leper came to him
Yes beloved we must come to Christ with our sins. In order to do that we must recognize our condition. We must recognize where we fall short of the mark. The greasy grace preachers try to mock this as being sin conscious but in reality it is Savior conscious. The Bible says if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Sometimes Christians get things so twisted. I remember a sister who desperately needed glasses. She would always squint while reading to the point that it looked painful. I asked her why she didn't go for glasses and her answer was, "I'm not claiming that!" Yeah, well it sure looks like it has claimed you! Having faith is not denying reality. The reality is we are sinners. We need to be aware of that, recognize that and bring that to Jesus. Repentance starts with... a sinner came to Him. The next element we see is holy desperation:
imploring him (from the Mark Gospel account of the same story)
Unfortunately one of the results of watered down gospels is a reduction in the seriousness of sin. I have heard preachers tell congregations of thousands that they do not have to worry about sin anymore. Jesus forgave everything in advance! Put away those ten commandments and the law. The law never saved anyone! That is true. The law never saved anyone but it identifies our sin for us. That is why Jesus said not one dot of the law will disappear until heaven and earth disappear! God takes sin very seriously beloved.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, - 1Peter 3: 18 (ESV)
God takes sin so seriously that He sent His only Son to die a horrible death in our place. How dare we marginalize it and minimize it. This leper understood the desperation of his situation. He understood that his condition required healing desperately. He understood that his condition required Jesus desperately. So often we circle the same mountain of sin over and over again because we simply do not take our condition seriously. We mention it to God. Sure it might be a regular prayer but we do not implore Him. We take our sin to the altar and then tuck it back into our pocket and go back to our pew wondering why He doesn't just take it from us. He is not going to take what we refuse to let go of. The next element we see is humble prayer:
and knelt before Him
God is holy. We are raising a generation of Christians devoid of reverence for God. We are raising a "friend of God" generation. We see throughout the Bible an utter humility and reverent awe from the true servants of God towards Him. Read Psalm 51 and see the holy desperation and humble prayers of David when he finally understood the gravity of the sins he had committed with Bathsheba:
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. - Psalm 51: 11 (ESV)
We need to get desperate about our need for Christ on a daily basis. To cleanse us from our sins daily. We need to be prostrate before Him. Lastly, we need to have faith in whom we serve, while respecting His sovereignty:
"If you will, you can make me clean."
The leper understands the sovereignty of God by saying, "If you will" and displays his assured faith by saying, "you can make me clean." These are two things we need as believers today. We cannot come to God with weak faith. Unsure of His ability to hold to the promises He has made in His Word. Promises to be our provider. Promises to be our healer. Promises to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We also cannot come to God arrogantly. We cannot come demanding our will but rather seeking His. Sometimes the walk through the valley of the shadow of death is a lot longer than we would like. Refinement is rarely easy. It requires heat. It requires pain. But through it all, God does not change beloved.
What can we expect from God when we come to Him in the same manner as the leper in our story? First of all we can rely on Him being moved with pity. Another translation says moved by compassion. Beloved - God loves you. He cares about you. He will always be moved compassionately when dealing with you. Secondly, He will always reach out and touch you. Realize that Jesus here did not need to touch the leper to heal him. He was making a statement to the world that would never reach out to touch this man. People would run away from this man shouting unclean but Jesus reached out and touched him when no one else would. That is the God we serve. He is a personal God. He will deal with us personally. It will not be casual. It will be tactile. We will feel Him move in us. Lastly, we can rely on the fact that He will heal us. He will take the sins we willingly let go of. He will forgive us. He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There are no maybes in the promises of God. He does not change His mind and He does not contradict His Word. We can be relieved of the burdens we carry. We can have our spiritual neuropathies healed. We can be cleansed of the leprosy eating away at our soul. If that is what we truly want.