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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:Jesus Christ restores life and communion.
Text:Mark 1:40-45 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2006
Added:2007-12-27
Updated:2008-01-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146:1-3
Hymn 7:9
Psalm 146:4-5
Hymn 27:1-2
Psalm 92:1-2

Reading: Numbers 12
Text: Mark 1:40-45
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Imagine yourself for a moment as an outcast. Imagine yourself being someone that no one will have anything to do with. Imagine that you have some kind of disease that makes you look horrifying. When you dare to venture out in public, you’re the kind of person that little children can’t help but stare at and ask embarassing questions like: “Mommy, why is that woman so ugly?” Now imagine further that your condition also makes it so that you can’t even go to church. Imagine that God had said that because of your disease, you are not welcome at the worship services. You do not belong there, you cannot have access to the means of grace, to the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. You cannot come into God’s presence in public worship. Everywhere you go there is a sign that says, “Keep out!” Imagine that.

If you can imagine that, you have some idea of what the man in our text was up against. He was a leper. Now we’re not exactly sure what that means in modern terms. But in Biblical terms that means he had some kind of infectious skin disease. From Leviticus 13 we know that it probably involved sores and rotting flesh – a condition like Miriam experienced in what we read from Numbers 12. Such a person would be examined by a priest and if the condition fit all the criteria, he would be declared a leper. Furthermore, he would be declared unclean.

We should not underestimate what that meant. To be declared an unclean leper was basically to be declared a living corpse. It was a virtual death sentence. Leviticus 13:45-46 tells us what the leper had to do: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.”

To be a leper in Israel was an awful, awful life. It was virtually no life at all. You weren’t allowed any human contact whatsoever. God’s law said that you had to be completely cut off from his people – you had to live “outside the camp.” Not only that, but you were also cut off from the special presence of God in the temple. Now you might say, “Big deal, the leper could find God’s presence out in the wilderness too. He could worship God anywhere. He didn’t need the temple.” But hold on. Not so quick. The Bible is clear that God was present in the temple in a special way. It was the place where his glory rested, where he made his Name dwell. Though we cannot fully explain or understand how this was, there was a special presence of God in the temple. Not only that, but as a result the whole sacrificial system was centered around the temple. The temple was where one would go to find forgiveness of sins in the Old Testament through the sacrifices that were offered. If you were cut off from that, you were in big trouble. The leper was cut off from the Old Testament means of grace. That was a big deal. You see, he was the walking dead in more than one way. He could not have communion with man or God. This disease pictured the violence of sin and death and a just and holy God could have nothing to do with it.

If you want to see a man in the Bible living under the burden of bad news and utter hopelessness, this text is a good place to find one. What could be worse than being a leper in Israel? Into this depressing picture of despair comes Jesus Christ. The one long promised to take up the infirmities of God’s people has finally come. The leper no doubt heard about what he had done in Capernaum for the countless sick and demon-possessed. So he too dares to come to Jesus. And the Saviour does not disappoint. Brothers and sisters, we see him revealed in our passage as the one who restores life and communion. As we hear God’s Word preached, we’ll consider:
  1. His deep compassion
  2. His stern warning
  3. His growing reputation
The last passage we looked at concluded by telling us that Jesus was travelling throughout Galilee, preaching in all the synagogues and driving out demons. As we come to verse 40, we’re still in that environment. The Lord is travelling in Galilee and preaching wherever he can. But the scene we find here definitely doesn’t take place in the synagogue. Because of what I mentioned earlier about God’s law, this leper was not allowed in the synagogue. He was not allowed to be involved with the corporate worship of God in any place – not the temple and not the synagogue either.

But yet he comes to Jesus and he worships. He fell down on his knees – this was a gesture of reverent worship. The words that come from his mouth also reflect something of what lives in the man’s heart. He says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” He knew what Jesus had done in Capernaum. He knew that Jesus had a hand of power and a heart of love. And the fact that he goes to Jesus, knowing that this was completely off limits, that shows his conviction that Jesus could do something about his leprosy. Perhaps it says even more when we realize that in Jewish rabbinic tradition, the healing of leprosy was considered to be a miracle on the same order as the raising of the dead. This shows first of all that leprosy was equated with death, but second it shows us that the healing of leprosy is God’s domain. Only God can raise the dead and only God can heal lepers.

While only God could heal, the priests of God were the ones who declared someone to be clean in Israel. So in coming to Christ and asking him to make him clean, the leper is also expecting Jesus to act in the place of the priests. The leper has the expectation that Christ can heal him and declare him clean because he is someone the likes of which Israel has never seen. He was right. Our Saviour is unparalleled and that’s a timeless truth. There is no one like him.

And that holds even more true when we see how the Lord Jesus responded to this pitiful person. Some might expect Jesus to tell the man to get away and listen to God’s law. God’s law was clear: this man had no business being around other people. But Jesus does something surprising, something that, at least in Mark’s gospel, has never been done before: he places his own love and compassion above the demands of the ceremonial law. Christ is sovereign over all sicknesses and diseases. But more than that when the demands of the law and Jesus’ love and compassion for the suffering come into conflict, the Lord Jesus places love above the law. That’s because he is the one who came to fulfill the law. Who was he that he could do this? Only God in the flesh would have the right and authority to place the law of love above the ceremonial law in this dramatic way. Christ is clearly driven by the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faith.

Mark tells us that Christ was filled with compassion. He looked at this poor man and took his afflictions to heart. This man was a child of the covenant, circumcised on the eighth day, but now he was virtually a zombie, the walking dead. Cut off from man and God. How could the Lord Jesus not feel deep sympathy for his plight?! The Saviour reached out with his hand and touched the man. The one who said, “I am the life,” touches the one who is dead. “I am willing, be clean!” Immediately the man comes back to life. The leprosy instantly left him and he was restored to life.

How can we read this passage and not think of what our Saviour does for us too? Before Christ regenerates us with his Holy Spirit, we are dead in sin. We are spiritual lepers, we are the walking dead, we are all ravaged by sin. Perhaps we are not cut off from human community, but we are definitely cut off from communion with God. The good news is that we have a Saviour who has had compassion on us. The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost! He has taken our dead bodies which had been face down in the water and breathed life into us. Is there anyone who compares with this Saviour? Brothers and sisters, hear the gospel in this text, repent from your sins and believe it! It’s so beautiful, so wonderful. We have a Saviour who puts flesh back on lepers, we have a Saviour who puts life into dead sinners. The result is that we are brought back into communion with God in every way that’s possible in this age. It makes you think of John Newton’s classic hymn:
Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Saviour’s Name
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame
He has washed us with his blood
He has brought us nigh to God.”

Ah, what a Saviour we have! Let’s indeed praise his Name in every way we can!

Let’s also listen to the stern warning he gives to the ex-leper in our passage. After healing him, we’re told that Christ sent the man away with a strong warning. These words have puzzled many over the years. The reason is not immediately obvious in most of our English translations. The word for “strong warning” has a connotation of anger to it. It makes you wonder: where does anger fit in this scene? What does Jesus have to be angry about? The best answer is that it is the effects of sin and death in the world that perturb him. He sees how the fall into sin has murdered man and robbed him of the fullness of life lived in communion with others and especially with God. This would be enough to arouse a righteous anger in the Son of God.

What’s more is that he knows that it is his preaching which holds out hope for this desperate situation. It is the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God in his person that holds out light and life for those who are dead in darkness. This is what drives the stern warning that he gives the former leper.

Jesus says, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone.” And we stop and we wonder why. Why would Christ be so set on keeping this incredible healing quiet? Wouldn’t he want people to know what he can do for them? The answer to this question is in the context. Remember from last time, it was his mission and calling to preach. He would heal and would show compassion, but the main thing was his preaching. His preaching gives the context of who he is and what he’s about. If we didn’t know the whole picture of who Jesus Christ is, the healing of the leper would just be on the order of something you read about in the Guinness Book of World Records: “Wow, isn’t that neat?” But it would not mean anything. It’s his preaching that gives the big picture of what he is all about and that’s why he wants the leper to keep quiet. If the healings take center stage, then the preaching will be compromised. People will not listen to him, they’ll only want him for what he can give them in the way of miracles.

Really, what’s at stake here is very relevant for our day. We live in a day where marketing is everything, also when it comes to the church in broader Christian circles. We’re told that we have to address people’s needs, but more often what we’re really talking about is their wants. So, the church has to water everything down so that it fits what people want. The church has to present itself using various marketing strategies taken from the business world. One of those strategies is to not tell people what your church believes in any detail. If you have a church website, you don’t have a Statement of Faith or if you do, you bury it deep in your website so that people really have to dig to find it. As soon as you have a Statement of Faith out front, people have you pegged and then they won’t come and check you out. But if you keep them guessing, then you’ll pull the crowds in. Christ’s approach is much different. He is not about what people want – just the healings and the miracles. He is all about what people truly need – the preaching of the gospel which restores dead sinners to life. He was not about marketing himself, but about doing the will of his Father, doing the thing he was sent to do: to seek and save the lost, to proclaim the message that whoever would believe in him would have the life that lasts forever. That’s why he gave the strict command to this man to keep quiet.

And to show that he wasn’t a revolutionary, he told the man to go and show himself to the priest. That didn’t necessarily mean going to Jerusalem at that exact moment. Remember, this likely happened in Galilee, which is quite some distance yet from Jerusalem. There were priests living all over Palestine – many towns and villages had priests. So this man would go to one of those priests to be examined and to undergo the complicated rituals in order to be declared clean. Jesus told the man to do this to show that he was not overturning the ceremonial system. That system still had its place.

Therefore the man was also commanded to go to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifices that had been commanded in the law of Moses. The next time he was in Jerusalem, he would do everything else that had been outlined in Leviticus 14. The result would be that this man would be declared ceremonially clean. Once again he would be allowed to take part in worship in the synagogue and the temple. The means of grace would again be available to him and he would be able to receive the same blessings as every other child of God. He would be fully restored to fellowship with God and man. At least, that was the plan.

However, what we’re told in our text shows that things didn’t happen the way they were supposed to. This is what we’re briefly considering in our third point as we look at Christ’s growing reputation.

After all that just happened, the disobedience of the former leper is a bit of a downer. If you were reading this for the first time, you may not have expected this. Maybe you’d think to yourself, “If that was me, I’d have been so thankful and full of love for Jesus that I’d have done exactly what he said.” Perhaps you would have. But in the nature of the case, that’s not what happened. Instead, he disobeyed Jesus on two counts. First he didn’t go to the priest (at least we’re not told that he did anyway) and second he began to speak freely and publicly spreading around what Jesus had done for him. His excitement got the better of him and he could not shut up about the miracle. Ironically, the same word in Greek is used here for what the leper does as is used to describe Jesus’ preaching in verse 39. The word there literally means to herald. The ex-leper is heralding too, but unlike Jesus he is heralding in an illegitimate way! In doing this, he showed that he didn’t know his greatest need, the greatest need of all of us: to have Jesus as the Saviour from sin and guilt before a holy God.

The results appeared disastrous for Jesus’ preaching ministry. This man’s joy at being healed stood in the way of Christ’s mission. His mission was to preach. Christ wanted to preach in the synagogues where God’s people were gathered in worship. Now because of the ex-leper’s big mouth, he couldn’t go anywhere near a town or a village without being thronged by the crowds. These crowds were not interested in hearing him preach – they wanted his miracles, more miracles like the one he did for the leper. In the end, the Lord Jesus ended up staying in “lonely places.” But these places were not lonely for long, because even in the most isolated spots, people would find him. His reputation was growing by leaps and bounds, but it did not appear to serve the ultimate purpose of his ministry.

It looks like things are moving in the opposite direction from what we would expect. Every time Jesus takes two steps forward, he seems to take three steps back. His mission is to preach the gospel, but it seems like every time he tries he gets hindered in some way. He feels compelled to show compassion to the crowds and heal them. This creates more hindrances. And so on and on it goes. But are God’s plans really being frustrated in all this? Was the cross a surprise? I think we know the answers to those questions. Everything is playing out the way that the sovereign God has scripted it. The devil and sinful man appear to be standing in the way of the gospel. But the reality is that God is in control and directing all things to their appointed end. Things are not what they seem here at the end of chapter 1. The sovereign God has his plan for salvation and he will carry it through. Because of his love and power nothing can stand in his way.

The same is true for the lives of those who are in Christ by faith. Those who have union with Christ, they have the guarantee that even when it feels like they’re in a broken elevator heading for the basement, God is holding the cables. Or to use an illustration of David Powlison: our lives often seem to be like a yo-yo. Up and down. And the downs can be terrifying, depressing or maybe both. But the comfort of God’s Word is that this yo-yo called your life is held by someone standing on the up escalator. As we move forward, by God’s grace believing in Christ and in his gospel, the string of that yo-yo gets shorter. We start to see in greater measures the reality that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing could stand in his way in Mark 1 and nothing can stand in his way in your life. The gospel is heard loud and clear in passages like ours and passages like Isaiah 59:1, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” Believe it, for it is the gospel, the good news of Christ our Saviour. He is the one who restores us to life and communion with God. Praise him! AMEN.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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