Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lord, if you are willing, you can do it.


Jesus came down from the mountainside. Large crowds followed him. A man who had a skin disease came and got down on his knees in front of Jesus. He said, "Lord, if you are willing to make me 'clean,' you can do it." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing to do it," he said. "Be 'clean'!" Right away the man was healed of his skin disease.  – Matthew 8:1-3

Any of us who have grown up in church have heard stories about Jesus healing people. We have learned of the blind that were made to see, the lame that were made to walk, the dead who were raised to life, the sick who were made well. We all know that Jesus heals, but sometimes the greatest lessons are in reading between the lines of these stories. The most beautiful lessons are the ones that are a little beneath the words and discovered in the more significant meaning.

As I read the story of the leper of Matthew 8, I realized that there are three characters in this story and they represent more than the role they play in this story.

In reading this story, I noticed that this story is kind of about the leper, but more than that, it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the central character here. He is the first one mentioned and he is the one performing the action in this story.

The secondary character is the leper, referred to in this version as “a man who had a skin disease.” For simplicity we will call him Lester. Lester the Leper just has a certain ring to it. Lester is the one to whom the action is directed.

There is a third character in this story – the crowds that followed Jesus. I had never really considered the crowds to be a character in this story until today, but I think that they play a very significant role that we have to read between the lines to see.

To tell this story I must begin with the Lester the Leper for the story to make sense. Lester came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you are willing to make me ‘clean,’ you can do it.” Lester believed that Jesus could, but he recognized his unworthiness in coming to Jesus and didn’t know if Jesus would. Like many diseases in ancient times “leprosy was considered a curse of God, often associated with sin” (Gillen). Lester the Leper represents a sinner. Lester represents you and I, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We must believe that Jesus can heal our disease of sin.

Lepers were shunned, cast out from society, and considered unclean. When diagnosed with leprosy, regardless of your place in society, you were sent to associate with only those of similar illness. Leprosy is highly contagious and the ‘clean’ did not associate with the ‘unclean.’ In fact, the ‘unclean’ had to declare themselves if walking through the streets in order to warn the ‘clean’ that they were coming. Lester would have had to push his way through the crowds to get to Jesus. Leprosy was not an invisible disease; it destroyed the body. The crowds would have known, even without him declaring himself, that he was unclean. They would have done one of two things: 1) gotten out of the way or 2) tried to block his way to Jesus. In Ministry of Healing, Mrs. White tells us that this is exactly what happened as the leper approached Jesus (69). We are the leper, but I believe that there are times that we also play the role of the crowd. How often do we treat those who are “worse” sinners than us with disgust? How often do we ignore and avoid those who struggle with the sins that we consider ugly? Rather than leading them to Jesus, the one who heals, how often by our treatment of them do we stand in their way and block their view of Jesus? We should not act like the crowds. Instead, we should show sinners the love of Jesus and lead them to His feet where they can receive His grace and be made whole.

Finally, the central and most important character of this story is Jesus. Lester said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing to make me ‘clean,’ you can do it.” Don’t miss what Jesus does here because I think what He does is more important that what he says! “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” Jesus did not just use words, but he did the very thing that everyone else refused to do – He touched the leper, possibly the first touch he had experienced since being declared ‘unclean.’ Jesus reaches into the darkest places of our hearts that no one else dares explore for fear of it rubbing off and He touches us. Jesus isn’t afraid of our sin and He isn’t disgusted by us. With love, Jesus reached out his hand to the leper and He touched Him and made Him well. With that same love, Jesus stretched out His hands on the cross for the sinner to touch our hearts and heal us from the disease of sin.

The leper believed that Jesus could make him well, but didn’t know if he would. Our prayers are not always answered in the way that we want or as soon as we would like. There is one prayer whose answer will never be denied or delayed and is the sinners plea for mercy. 1 John 14-15 (NIRV), “There is one thing we can be sure of when we come to God in prayer. If we ask anything in keeping with what he wants, he hears us. If we know that God hears what we ask for, we know that we have it.” Galatians 1:4 says that it is the will of God to save us.

Believe that God can and will save you and do not stand in the way of those who come to Him.

References:
Gillen, Alan L. "Biblical Leprosy: Shedding Light on the Disease that Shuns" Answers in Genesis, June 10, 2007. < http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v2/n3/the-disease-that-shuns>
White, Ellen G. Ministry of Healing. Review and Herald, 1999. <http://www.whiteestate.org/books/mh/mh.asp >

All Bible verses taken from BibleGateway.com and are from the NIRV.
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