The Disobedient Leper
“Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them’ ” (vv. 43–44).- Mark 1:40-45
Legal regulations pertaining to ceremonial purity abound in the law of Moses, with the laws about leprosy being perhaps some of the most well known of these rules. Under the old covenant, the a iction of leprosy—which actually refers in Scripture to a variety of skin conditions—rendered a person unclean. Consequently, lepers had to take precautions to prevent the spread of their disease. They had to keep their distance from others and live outside the camp, away from the place of God’s special presence (Lev. 13:45–46). The leper could reenter the camp once healed, but first the priest had to conduct a close investigation of the leprous man or woman and offer sacrifices to restore the person to ritual purity (chaps. 13–14). But the law could only provide regulations for recognizing the disease, verifying when it was gone, and outlining ritual procedures for restoring the person’s ceremonial cleanness. It could not actually cure the person of leprosy, which was required if the leper was ever to be restored to the community.
The impotence of the Mosaic law to effect cleansing is seen in today’s passage when Jesus provides the healing that the old covenant stipulations never could. There is much to observe in this text. First, although contact with a leper ordinarily makes the non-diseased person unclean as well, Jesus is not rendered unclean when He touches the leper. Instead, Jesus retains His purity and extends it to a man in desperate need (Mark 1:41–42). Second, note the humble faith of the leper. He does not come demanding that our Lord heal him or doubting whether Jesus could restore him; rather, He confesses Jesus’ ability and notes that the Savior’s exercise of it depends entirely on His sovereignty (v. 40).
We also see that the leper’s faith, while strong, is imperfect, for it does not produce immediate obedience. After healing him, Jesus “sternly” charges the man not to tell anyone in Galilee but to go to the priest right away (v. 44). Why does the Lord issue this charge in a stern tone? One commentator says that He likely does so because of His knowledge that the cleansed man will disobey Him. In any case, the former leper begins telling everyone, and Jesus becomes so sought after that He cannot openly enter the nearby towns to preach the good news (v. 45). But knowing that this will happen, our Lord heals the man anyway, which is a remarkable display of His patience, compassion, and grace to undeserving sinners.
Our Lord’s grace and compassion is also seen in His reaction to the leprous man. Some manuscripts of Mark 1:41 state that Jesus was moved by anger, not pity. Dr. R.C. Sproul explains our Lord’s anger: “He was filled with a righteous indignation against the ravages of the fallen world, such as disease. He hated disease, but He cared for the person afflicted by the disease.” Christ hates what sin has done to His creation, and He is full of compassion for those who suffer the effects of the fall.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 5:1–14
2 Chronicles 26:16–23
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