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Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 5:12-16

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

 12While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.


Before going into today’s miracle, it might be useful to recap the past few passages from Luke’s Gospel.

In Luke 4, Jesus drove the demon out of a man at the synagogue in Capernaum then adjourned to Simon’s house, where He healed the future Apostle’s ailing mother-in-law. When Sabbath ended that day, families brought their infirm relatives to Him for healing. The following day, Jesus left the city to seek solitude. The people from Capernaum begged Him to stay, but He told them He had other places to visit in order to ‘preach the good news of the kingdom of God’.

As Luke 5 opens (a Lectionary reading, incidentally), Jesus was preaching ‘the word of God’ (Luke 5:1) along the shores of the lake of Gennesaret — the Sea of Galilee. As the crowd was too great for Him to be seen and heard, He got into Simon’s fishing boat and urged him to sail a distance from the shore to better address those who had come to hear Him. Afterward, He told Simon to cast his net into the water to catch fish. Simon objected; he had already gone fishing there the night before and caught nothing. However, Simon relented and cast his net. The resulting catch was so great that it began to sink not only Simon’s boat but that of his partners, brothers James and John. Simon sensed his own sinfulness at the wonder of this miracle and told Jesus he was not worthy of being in His presence. Yet, Jesus told his new Apostle not to fear; soon he would be a fisher of men. This is Luke’s account of Jesus’s taking on three Apostles, who ‘left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:11).

This brings us to today’s account of the leper who humbly asked Jesus to heal him. Whilst this is a creative miracle in that He made the man new again, it is also a call for us to recognise our sin and ask for spritual cleansing, particularly in light of Peter’s recognition of his own sinfulness just a few verses before. Matthew Henry describes it this way (emphases mine):

What we must do in the sense of our spiritual leprosy. (1.) We must seek Jesus, enquire after him, acquaint ourselves with him, and reckon the discoveries made to us of Christ by the gospel the most acceptable and welcome discoveries that could be made to us. (2.) We must humble ourselves before him, as this leper, seeing Jesus, fell on his face. We must be ashamed of our pollution, and, in the sense of it, blush to lift up our faces before the holy Jesus. (3.) We must earnestly desire to be cleansed from the defilement, and cured of the disease, of sin, which renders us unfit for communion with God. (4.) We must firmly believe Christ’s ability and sufficiency to cleanse us: Lord, thou canst make me clean, though I be full of leprosy. No doubt is to be made of the merit and grace of Christ. (5.) We must be importunate in prayer for pardoning mercy and renewing grace: He fell on his face and besought him; they that would be cleansed must reckon it a favour worth wrestling for. (6.) We must refer ourselves to the good-will of Christ: Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst. This is not so much the language of his diffidence, or distrust of the good-will of Christ, as of his submission and reference of himself and his case to the will, to the good-will, of Jesus Christ.

Verse 12 tells us that the leper approached Jesus in one of the Galilean cities. According to law, lepers were required to live outside the city limits in order to not spread their contagion. John MacArthur said in his sermon that leprosy was really examined only in the second half of the 19th century thanks largely to Gerhard Hansen, a Norwegian epidemiologist. It is sometimes called Hansen’s Disease because of his efforts. It still exists today in the third world, principally in parts of Africa and southeast Asia. We are familiar with stories about skin lesions and extremities falling off, but leprosy also damages the nervous system. This causes a loss of feeling which can lead to other infirmities. MacArthur tells the story of a leper who went blind because, not being able to feel pain, he habitually washed his face in scalding water which eventually damaged his eyes permanently.

Now back to the leper before Jesus. He approached Him with deep humility: ‘he fell on his face’ (verse 12). Then he ‘begged’ Jesus, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean’. This was a broken man, indeed.

Note that Jesus responded immediately with a complete cure via touch (verse 13). This post describes how Jesus healed people — thoroughly, at once, with no recovery time.

Jesus then asked the man to observe Jewish law with regard to leprosy (verse 14). In Mosaic Law, lepers were required to fulfil certain obligations if they were healed. MacArthur describes them:

… if you have the time you might want to read through the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus and you will note there the careful way in which a person was to be diagnosed by the priests. Remember now, the priests were the officers of the theocracy. They were the senate and the congress and they were the governors and the mayors, they were the people who were the officials and at the inspections of people from the medical side to protect the society was to be done in front of the priests and prescriptions were given them in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus as to how to conduct those kind of examinations. The worst situation, leprosy as we know it, Hansen’s Disease, caused for the person to be stamped “unclean.” In the forty-sixth verse of that chapter, Leviticus 13, this person shall remain unclean all the days in which he has the infection, he is unclean, he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp. Immediate, permanent isolation unless in some rare conditions the disease abated and disappeared and they could be introduced back into society.

in Leviticus 14 when somebody did have the disease abated, when somebody through whatever means was cured of the disease, there was a process by which the person could enter back into society. They had to go back to the priest and it was an eight-day procedure that involved amazing rites of cleansing and sacrifice. And God through the machinations of all that ceremony that lasted eight days and all those sacrifices and all those purifications and blood was put on the right finger and the right ear of the individual, and all of that, all that was showing that as serious as the disease of leprosy was, a far more serious disease existed in the heart of man and that was sin. All that whole ceremonial system, all those sacrifices for all the various reasons that they were prescribed in Leviticus were pictures of sin and the need for the cure of the heart. So even in the Old testament leprosy was a picture of sin. And there were times when God actually gave people leprosy, Naaman the Syrian, Uzziah, the king 2 Chronicles 26, Azariah. And so, if you had leprosy not only did you have the most socially stigmatized disease possible, but you could also bear the stigma that maybe you had that disease because God had cursed you

Leviticus chapter 14 says this is what you have to do, it was the priests in chapter 13 who did the diagnosis and it is the priests in chapter 14 who have to affirm the cure. So He says, “Before you just go running off telling everybody, you need to do what’s right so that the healing can be affirmed and that you can have the certificate that was given at the end of the eight days.” It may well be that he had to go to Jerusalem for this, that would take a few days, a few days down, eight days there, a few days back. Not only would he be doing what the law of Moses prescribed and making a very important testimony to the priests about the power of Jesus, but he would be buying Jesus some time because a miracle of this massive kind would just generate more crowds, more people and become potentially debilitating for Jesus. The crowds were already so big He had to go off the shore in a boat or they would have pushed Him into the water, as you know. So He says don’t tell anybody, that’s so hard.

However, was there silence about this creative miracle afterward? No. Verse 15 relates that word went out far and wide about this miracle. Luke does not say by whom. Matthew Henry offered this analysis:

Though the leper should altogether hold his peace, yet the thing could not be hid, so much the more went there a fame abroad of him. The more he sought to conceal himself under a veil of humility, the more notice did people take of him; for honour is like a shadow, which flees from those that pursue it (for a man to seek his own glory is not glory), but follows those that decline it, and draw from it. The less good men say of themselves, the more will others say of them. But Christ reckoned it a small honour to him that his fame went abroad; it was much more so that hereby multitudes were brought to receive benefit by him. [1.] By his preaching. They came together to hear him, and to receive instruction from him concerning the kingdom of God. [2.] By his miracles. They came to be healed by him of their infirmities; that invited them to come to hear him, confirmed his doctrine, and recommended it.

MacArthur says that this leper was the same as in Mark 1:40-45. Note Mark’s statement that the man himself told others:

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

 40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” 41Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” 42And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, 44and 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.” 45 But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Both accounts indicate a divine Jesus who, in His humanity, must have been drained of energy after a day of preaching and healing. We cannot imagine what that must have been like. The more we read the accounts of miracles and withdrawal, the more we can appreciate the loss of physical and spiritual energy Jesus must have felt.

It is no wonder then that Jesus needed to withdraw from time to time to pray (verse 16). He felt refreshed after time alone in prayer. So many of us are reluctant to communicate with God. Yet, our Lord found it restorative and the Gospels set His example as one for us to follow.

Henry offers us this advice:

Note, Secret prayer must be performed secretly; and those that have ever so much to do of the best business in this world must keep up constant stated times for it.

Next time: Luke 5:17-26

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