“When He was in a certain city, behold a man full of leprosy: who seeing Jesus fell on his face, and besought Him, saying, Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean” (Luke 5:12).
Jesus began His ministry teaching and healing and calling disciples unto Himself. Early in the Gospels we see a high concentration of miracles, as Jesus eagerly went about the work He had announced from the synagogue in Nazareth: “To heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). In Luke chapter 5 we encounter a particularly vivid portrait of His saving power as Jesus confronts the dreadful sight of a man stricken with leprosy.
Leprosy and Sin
The Bible's term leprosy describes a broad range of skin diseases, including psoriasis, lupus, ringworm, favus, and what we now know by the name of Hansen’s disease. The first thing we must say about leprosy in the ancient world is that it was a horrible condition. Particularly in its advanced stages it was debilitating and terribly disfiguring. It affected not merely the surface of the skin, with sores and splotches, but also corrupted the blood and rotted the bones.
Perhaps more dreadful than the disease itself were the social and religious implications of being a leper. According to the law, as set forth in Leviticus 13-14, a leper was banished from all human contact, removed from the family and workplace, from the synagogue and the market, cast outside the city to live in shadows. One reason for these restrictions was the risk of contagion. But it is also clear that leprosy represented sin.
Unclean skin signifies the work of sin upon us, the fruit of our own evil deeds and the sins of others as they have impacted us. Rotten bones signify the corruption of sin that is within us. As the leper is the living dead, so too are we “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
Helpless and Hopeless
This poor leper saw his horrid condition, and therefore he ventured to come to Jesus. Sadly, many of us fail to see our sinful condition. Many of us do not feel unclean because we have never committed adultery or murder, because our lies have been petty ones, or because we have stolen and never been caught. But if our conscience fails to show us the horror of our condition, God provides a mirror with which we can see ourselves truly. That mirror is His law, most central of which are the Ten Commandments. There we see the perfection of God's character and of His divine standards. In that mirror we discover stains upon our face. We see that we are cursed and diseased and unclean.
This leper was not only horrible, but his case was also hopeless. Society had written him off and hoped only to see him no more. All that awaited him was misery followed by death. This leper knew himself to be hopeless, but I wonder if you do. You may seek self-improvement, you may make resolutions, but do you realize that your nature is corrupt? You may succeed at some surface improvements. You may scrub a splotch or two off the outside. But realize that they will only reappear, since the problem of sin is the disease that afflicts you, that resides within you, and for which there is no earthly cure.
Jesus Is Willing to Save
When this leper saw Jesus, he fell on his face and said, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” There was some internal struggle at work within the leper. He knew that Jesus had the power, but he was not sure that Jesus was willing to use it in his case. How many people feel this way! They see well enough that Jesus is the world's only Saviour. But is He willing to be their Saviour?
How beautiful was Jesus' reply, plain and direct: “I will” (Luke 5:13). Why was Jesus willing to make this wretched man clean? Mark, in his account of this miracle, gives us one answer. He says that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Mark 1:41). Jesus is willing to save you, not because of what is in you, not because you are lovely or lovable, but because of what is in Him. He is “moved with compassion.”
The Healing Touch
Luke 5:13 wonderfully tells us that Jesus “put forth His hand, and touched him, saying, I will: be thou clean. And immediately the leprosy departed from him.” What this means for you is that there is cleansing for you, no matter how horrid the scars upon your heart, no matter how wretched the stench from your soul, no matter how unclean and defiled and impure you are. What a picture this is of the total instantaneous cleansing that is available for sinners who come to Jesus. Because of this God is able to say, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). Therefore the psalmist can sing, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
God has made a way for you. The apostle Paul tells us this: “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…. God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6,8). Therefore there is no reason to withhold your shame, your filth, your fears from Him who came as the great Healer, even of lepers like us. You may only find grace to say, “Lord, I don't know if you are willing in a case so foul as mine. But I know that you can, and I come to you for cleansing.” Will He not say to you what He delighted to say to this poor leper? “I will: be thou clean!”
—Condensed from Mighty to Save, copyright (c) 2001 by Richard D. Phillips. Published by P&R Publishing.