1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45
February 12, 2012
I. The story of Jesus cleansing the man with leprosy in Mark 1:40-45 makes me wonder if we’re going about evangelism backwards by encouraging people to tell others about Jesus. Would reverse psychology work better? Maybe we should tell people to say nothing about Jesus to anyone, and then they’d go out a spread the word.
A leper came to [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean 43After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.
A. Just before this in verses 38-39 Jesus said, “‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message.” But after the man Jesus cleansed of leprosy spread the word, Jesus stayed out in the country and people came to him from every quarter. That sounds a lot more efficient to me. Instead of traveling from town to town to go to the people, Jesus could stay put and the people came to him. So whether Jesus really wanted the man to keep quite or not, maybe he did Jesus a favor by ignoring what Jesus told him when he went out and spread the word.
B. This man was so overwhelmed that Jesus had cleansed him from his leprosy that he couldn’t help himself. He had to tell everyone what had happened to him. Can you think of something Jesus has done for you that is so compelling that you had to tell everyone you could, even if they didn’t want to hear it? even if Jesus himself had told you to keep it quiet?
C. Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
II. This man who suffered with leprosy said to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” He had seen or heard enough that he had no question about Jesus’ power, only his willingness. He wanted freedom not only from his physical pain but also his social and spiritual contamination.
A. Our general familiarity with the Gospel stories has so informed our presuppositions that we can’t imagine why anyone would think Jesus wouldn’t want to heal someone who was suffering. This came very early in Jesus’ ministry, just as he was starting to tour the towns of Galilee. People were just getting to know Jesus and did not know how he worked.
1. This man’s leprosy made him a social outcast who had learned not to expect anything good for himself.
2. He may well have thought that Jesus would not have considered him important enough for a miracle.
3. Even though he knew in his head that Jesus had healed other people, in his heart he may have doubted Jesus will and compassion.
B. In ancient Israel leprosy was a metaphor for sin and spiritual contamination. His disease reminded him of his sin, and he may have thought he didn’t deserve healing.
1. People with leprosy were labeled “unclean.” Leviticus 13:45-46 explains how they had to wear ragged clothes, leave their hair disheveled and live alone outside of town. The man who disrupted the synagogue service in Mark 1:23-27 was described as having an unclean spirit. Leprosy was religiously related to demon possession.
2. When the man said to Jesus, “You can make me clean,” he was not just asking to be cured of his disease. He wanted to be made kosher, to be religiously clean to not only be welcomed back into society but to the community of God’s people.
3. When Jesus said “Be made clean” to him, he was pronouncing pardon for sin, not just curing a disease.
C. Just as like this man, Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
III. We know that Jesus got angry when he ran the merchants out of the Temple, and we know he sometimes used strong language with self-righteous people and his pious critics. But we expect Jesus to be gentle with those he heals. Jesus certainly seems compassionate when he stretched out his hand to touch the man with leprosy. However, where verse 41 says Jesus was “moved with pity,” the oldest and best manuscripts say Jesus was moved with anger. Scholars guess that somewhere along the line one or more scribes thought that was too harsh and changed anger to pity or compassion. People at Jesus’ time would have been equally shocked that Jesus touched the man with leprosy before healing him. Through the centuries people have wondered why here and several other places Jesus tells people to keep their healing secret just when he is working to proclaim the Gospel.
A. When Jesus sternly warned the man to say nothing to anyone (v. 43), the language is strong, like anger (v. 41). The word comes from the snorting of a horse. Mark 14:5 used it again for the scolding given to the woman who anointed Jesus just before his crucifixion. John 11:38 used it for Jesus’ angry weeping at Lazarus’ tomb.
1. Some think Jesus may have been directing his anger at the man with leprosy for doubting his compassion or in anticipation of his disobedience by spreading the word about being cleansed. For Jesus to be angry as the man for something he had not done yet makes no sense. And Jesus’ compassionate touch contradicts any suggestion that Jesus was angry at the man.
2. I think we get a much better insight into Jesus’ anger from his weeping at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11:38. Jesus was angry at how suffering debilitates the human will and spirit. Just as Jesus was angry at the pain of death in John, he was angry at the spiritual as well as social, emotional and physical pain the man with leprosy had endured in his life.
B. People at Jesus time feared leprosy. They feared religious contamination that identified them with sin and excluded them not only from daily society but from all religious life. In much of the world today people still fear catching this crippling, contagious disease.
1. John Calvin observed that Jesus could have cured the man with a word. He did not need to touch him, but that touch conveyed deep compassion and liberation from social isolation. Imagine the wondrous warmth of the first human touch this man had felt in years!
2. By touching the man before cleansing him, technically, Jesus became ceremonially unclean. What a powerful way for Jesus to demonstrate the priority of compassion over ritual and regulation!
C. If Jesus went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message (v. 39), why was he so adamant about telling the man he had just cleansed of leprosy to say nothing to anyone? The result of people coming from every quarter to see Jesus out in the country would seem to have helped with his mission.
1. Saying nothing to anyone is directly linked with showing himself to the priest and offering for his cleansing what Moses commanded. Could Jesus have intended him to keep quiet until he got these things taken care of?
a) This way the authenticity of his healing would have been verified by an independent source.
b) For the Priests, Jesus might have been able to cure the man, but only a Priest could declare him clean, welcome to return to society and to the religious community. But Mark wrote that he was made clean, not just cured.
c) In the very next episode in Mark 2, the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof, Jesus began a string of conflicts and confrontations with the religious leaders when he told the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven before he healed him. Perhaps sending the man cleansed of leprosy to the Priest was Jesus’ way of insuring that these inevitable conflicts were about his messianic identity and mission.
2. If seen as the first of many such prohibitions on telling about healings, this may have more to do with trying to keep people from coming to him for the wrong reasons.
a) Jesus certainly did not want to entertain people with spectacular charlatan’s tricks.
b) Jesus did not want people to come to him to satisfy an immediate desire but to be encountered by the eternal redemption for which he came.
c) I rather doubt Jesus was using reverse psychology, telling the man to say nothing to anyone, knowing that would get him to spread the word. In today’s thinking, to go viral.
D. Like this man, Jesus chose to make you clean. You can choose to spread the word while watching him work.
IV. This sermon is not just an excursion through the story of a man who met Jesus when he was starting his public ministry. This is my story and your story. Can you think of something Jesus has done for you that is so compelling that you had to tell everyone you could, even if they didn’t want to hear it? even if Jesus himself had told you to keep it quiet?
A. In John 13:10 and 15:3 Jesus told his disciples they had been made clean by his word. While we wouldn’t claim to be sinless, plenty of us who have been in the church for a long time don’t feel too dirty. We’re a long way from having just stepped out of the spiritual shower with the filth of wallowing in the sump of sin washed down the drain. Others of us so are obsessed with the dust on our feet that we don’t realize Jesus has made us clean.
B. I want to invite you to choose to claim Jesus clean-up for yourself. That’s what 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is about. We choose the spiritual disciplines of daily Scripture and prayer, and weekly worship to receive Jesus’ regular clean-up. Paul ends the paragraph with a concern that he not be disqualified after having preached to others. I don’t think that means losing his salvation. I think it means losing the joy and exhilaration of Jesus’ clean-up.
C. Being told that we have an obligation to tell people about Jesus and invite them to church is a demotivating guilt trip. But if you are exhilarated by Jesus’ spiritual shower, you will not be able to stop yourself from spreading the word, not by people who don’t want to hear it, not even if Jesus himself told you to be quiet.
In our Illinois church, before I joined their pastoral team, we were having an evening to introduce people to small group ministry. A young couple who had recently come were there, and the wife was in the same circle with me. We were each to find something in our wallet or purse that represented a personal treasure. This young woman pulled out a folded, handwritten letter as she told her story. As a teen what little attention she had gotten from her divorced parents was negative. She wanted something better for herself but didn’t know how to get it. She met a young man who had grown up in Brazil with missionary parents and was now going to school in the U.S. As she got to know him, she came to believe life with him would open the door to a positive future for her. She consciously planned to get him to marry her by taking advantage of his loneliness, seducing him and getting pregnant. She was successful. Of course, his parents could not come from Brazil for a hasty wedding, but the letter from her purse was from her mother-in-law, welcoming her to the family with grace and joy. That letter opened her to lay claim to the grace of Jesus for herself as well. In that circle that night she told us that while she was sure Jesus neither organized nor approved of her plan, he did clean her and set her free.That couple are grandparents now, and Candy and I still hear from them a couple of times a year through a round robin letter. Their life and raising their children has not always been easy, but she had never hesitated to tell anyone who would listen that Jesus rescued her from a far worse fate.