Text: Luke 5:12-16
This chapter tells us about the difference that Jesus makes in the lives of four individuals in particular – Lk 5:1-11 – Simon. Lk 5:17-26 – a paralysed man. Lk 5:27-32 – Levi the tax collector. Here we have:-
1. A desperate need
The term ‘leprosy’ covered a variety of chronic skin conditions, including psoriasis, dermatitis, and the bacterial infection of leprosy itself. Consider how desperate this man’s need was. He was physically disfigured: in its severest form, leprosy was terribly disfiguring, and this man is described as being ‘covered with leprosy’. He was a social outcast: forbidden to have contact with anybody apart from other sufferers. He was poverty-stricken: he could not earn a living and so depended on charity. He was guilt-ridden: many Jewish teachers blamed the disease on the sufferer (usually the sin of slander). His life was viewed as a kind of living death: he was doomed to look and behave as though he was in permanent mourning, crying out, “Unclean, unclean.”
It is not difficult for us to think of physical disorders that lead the sufferers to become socially stigmatised: deformities of various kinds, epilepsy, deafness, and, of course, AIDS.
Now this man was desperate enough to approach Jesus and make this remarkable plea for help, v12. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” This question pinpoints the two things that are necessary for one person to help another: the ability and the willingness. Supposing a teenager has run out of money. He asks parents for help, and they reply, “We could help you out, but we’re not going to.” He asks his girlfriend if she can help, and her reply is, “I’d love to be able to help you, but I don’t have any money left myself.” A needy person requires someone who is both able and willing to help. This man has somehow become convinced of Jesus’ ability to help him. But he’s not convinced of his willingness. But he’s already halfway towards getting the help he needs. How many of us, proud, independent, self-sufficient creatures that we are, need to learn this vital lesson that can be summed up in one word: “Ask”?
2. A compassionate response
‘Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.’ Notice how the words and actions of Jesus were varied according to the particular needs of those with whom he came into contact. Remember the man who was deaf and could hardly talk: Jesus took him aside, away from the crowd, put his fingers into the man’s ears, then spat and touched the man’s tongue. Then ‘He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).’ In this case, it is highly significant that Jesus reached out and touched the man. This was probably the first time for years that the man had been touched by anyone other than another leprosy sufferer. This touch speaks volumes. Mk 1:41 tells us that Jesus was ‘filled with compassion.’ There were a number of reasons why Jesus performed his miracles of healing: and this is one of them. He saw someone with a great need, and he responded with compassion. And this suggests to me that Jesus is still able to heal the sick miraculously today.
In one breath, Jesus expressed his willingness to heal the man. What wonderful grace is revealed in the words, “I am willing”! What sovereign power is evidenced by the command, “Be clean”! And the man was healed immediately. This, be it noted, is in marked contrast to many alleged healings today.
We are bound to ask, can Jesus do the same today? Sure. There is the question, of course, of whether modern miracles can compare with the healing miracles of Christ and the apostles in terms of immediacy and completeness. What is without question is that Christians should seek to be filled with the compassionate heart of Jesus, and long to do all the good we can, to all the people we can, in all the ways that we can.
3. A clear instruction
Negatively, the man is told not to tell anyone. But why? Partly because Jesus did not want to become known primarily as a miracle-worker. Cf Luk 10:17-20. But also he did not wish to precipitate a premature crisis in his ministry. The seeds of suspicion and antagonism were at that time already being sown, see the following section of this chapter.
Positively, the man is told to report to the priest and to offer the prescribed sacrifice so that his recovery can be duly attested and he can take his place in society. This shows Jesus’ habitual attitude towards the law of Moses. He does nothing to violate it nor to offend those whose job it was to safeguard it. Jesus was not a maverick. He didn’t go out of his way to offend people. He was not a sourfaced negativist. There is always a danger that Bible-believing Christians will define themselves merely in terms of what they are against (abortion, euthanasia, premarital sex, divorce, homosexuality, and having fun); of thinking they have scored a moral victory when all they have done is simply offended people.
This is a notable miracle in its own right, demonstrating the compassion and power of Jesus. Christians should ask whether they are demonstrating Christ-like compassion towards the outcasts of society. They should ask what God expects them to do, either by way of ordinary or extra-ordinary, works of grace and kindness towards such people.
But this story comes right home when we realise that leprosy is used in Scripture as a symbol for the ravages wrought by human sinfulness. Isa 1:6 ‘ ‘From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged.’ Do we realise how much more loathsome and shameful spiritual leprosy is than its physical counterpart? This story of healing, then, carries a powerful message about Christ’s willingness and power to cleanse us from the debilitating and disfiguring condition of sin.
What we must do: seek Jesus, humble ourselves before him, desire to be cleansed, believe in the Saviour’s ability to cleanse us, ask him to cleanse us, rest in his love and kindness.
Christ, for his part, has reached down and touched a guilty, polluted world; he has so identified himself with our spiritual leprosy that he is described as being ‘like one from whom men hide their faces’, Isa 53:3. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’, 2 Cor 5:21. He is willing to rescue us, ‘…who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth,’ 1 Tim 2:4. He is able to save us, ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him.’ He is able to do it now, for ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation,’ 2 Cor 6:2.