Text: Luke 5:12-16
Date: Sunday November 5, 2023
Context: Today, in our text, Jesus heals a leper. There is significant cultural background to leprosy that is important for us to understand the significance of this passage. But not only is there cultural background, but there is an overlap in Scripture of the descriptions of leprosy and the descriptions of sin. It is not that leprosy was always a result of some personal sin. Rather, leprosy is an image for us of sin. It teaches us something about sin. And so, in this healing of the leper we learn something about the healing of sin. As this leper runs to Christ and finds the cure for his problem, we learn how we must run to Christ to find the cure for our problem. Let us read the text, and then consider the story as an image for us of our own salvation.
Luke 5:12–16 ESV While 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.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And 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.” But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
Meaning & Application
I THE PATIENT
A “Covered in Leprosy”: The account before us begins with a man who was covered in leprosy desparately finding his way to Christ. The text does not just say that he had leprosy, but that he was covered in leprosy, or full of leprosy. This disease had consumed him. His body was riddled with it. What was leprosy in the Bible? Leprosy was a skin disease. In its mildest forms it could refer to any basic psoriasis of the skin, any severe rashes. But in its true form, leprosy was a deathly disease that caused your skin to slowly rot. It eventually became a grotesque and disgusting disease that as we will see, isolated a person from all parts of life in the community. The way Leprosy is described in the Bible, time and time again, draws parallels with the way sin is described in the Bible. And so, I would like to draw some of those parallels for us here today, in order to better understand the heart of this leper.
B #1 Leprosy Runs Deeper than the the Eyes Can See: First, leprosy always ran far deeper than what the eyes could see.
Israel’s Laws: Israelite law in the Old Testament had specific rules for how to separate a basic blemish from the beginning of something more serious, like Leprosy. Leviticus 13 is an entire chapter in the Mosaic Law that gives precise instructions for managing leprosy in the camp, and distinguishing between true leprosy and simple skin blemishes.
Leviticus 13:3 ESV and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean.
Sin: Sin likewise runs far deeper than simply what you can see with your eyes. Sin often poses simply as a blemish on the surface of the skin. Something that is easily removed. When in fact the disease has already taken root and is beginning to effect other areas in your life. This typically occurs when we get the false notion in our mind that sin is only in our actions. In reality, our actions are simply the outside manifestation of sin. Sin always begins and is rooted much deeper than that.
Matthew 15:19 ESV For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
If We Could See The Monstrosity of Sin: Just as it would be grotesque to look on a leper in his final days as he rotted away, so it would be if we could see with God’s eyes how wicked and corrupt the human heart is as sin rots us away. We would appear as monsters, hideous, grotesque. This is why so much of modern psycho-therapy is just a waste of time. Modern psycho-therapy believes the true root of our problem is in our upbringing, in our subconscience, in our earliest memories. There may be some truth there, but that is not the root of the issue. The root of the problem is our heart. The core of us is rotten, and until the root of the problem is resolved, the leprosy will continue to spread.
C #2 Leprosy Isolates: Second Leprosy in those days completely separated a person from his community.
Contagious: Leprosy in those days was highly contagious and therefore the proper procedures for caring for a person with Leprosy was to isolate them, to separate them from the community. You may have heard of Leper colonies, where Lepers lived together away from the rest of civilization. Others in general were afraid of those with Leprosy, they didn’t want to be anywhere near them.
Announce His Uncleanness: Not only were others afraid of a leper, but the leper was commanded by Scripture to wear a cloth over his mouth and announce his uncleanness anytime he was near another person.
Leviticus 13:45 ESV “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’
This was his way of saying, “Stay away from me. Stay away from me.” A leper was totally cut off from society.
Sin’s Deceit: Sin, likewise is isolating. Many think that through sin and debauchery they will make friends, they will find life. Many think that by playing the part and going along with the crowd, the crowd will accept you. But friends made through sin, don’t stay. Sin is deceitful in this way. Sin in the end isolates you. Sin promises you community and acceptance and leaves you islated and disliked. This is for two reasons. One, when you follow the path of sin, you become a person increasingly who people do not trust. Eventually others see through you. You might be the life of the party, but you won’t a person of character who can be trusted. Two, when you follow the path of sin, the people you will surround yourself with, do not truly love you or care for you. They’re using you to feed their own despair. Sin-filled relationships are shallow pitiable wretched things that leave you isolated.
D #3 Leprosy Defiles: Third, leprosy defiled a person. Not only did leprosy cause a person to be isolated from their community of friends and family. But leprosy isolated a person from the religious life of the community. The Biblical word is unclean. Leprosy made a person ceremonially unclean. They would be cut off from all worship, unable to enter the temple, unable to make their sacrifices, unable to engage in worship. The reason for this is that leprosy was a symbol of death. Leprosy slowly killed a person. And death could not enter the holy temple of God. God is so good, and so pure, that defilement could not enter his sanctuary.
Everything He Touched Became Defiled: Further, the leper was defiled in all of his acts. If he drank from a cup, that cup was considered unclean and defiled. If he layed on a cot, that cot was considered unusable. If he entered a house, or touched a cloth, that house or that cloth became unclean. The led to a true pariah of a man. Others feared a leper. They would not want to be in eyesight of them, for fear that they would contract the disease themselves, or at the very least become unclean in some way. He was not permitted in any community, other than among other lepers. Lepers were not even permitted to drink from running streams of water, for fear there disease would flow downstream and affect others.
Sin Defiles (the unbeliever): Sin defiles us. Sin, in all kinds and degrees, is such a profound statement of rebellion to God, it is so dark, that God will not permit it in his holy eternal sanctuary. Sin cuts off from God. The status of a soul that has never received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, through the blood that he shed on the cross, is that of a person cut off from God. Sin has them hell bound. The Apostle Paul says,
Ephesians 4:18 ESV They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
Sin Defiles (the believer): But sin also has its affects on the believer. The believer has been covered by the grace of Christ, washed in the blood of the lamb. He has been accepted by Christ, and all of his sins atoned for. And yet, sin can still defile the believer. Sin can get a hold of you, and begin to rot away your fervent love of God. In an interesting verse in 1 Peter, Peter acknolwedges that a believers prayers to God can be hindered if there is sin in the way they are treating their wife.
1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Sin will cause you to grow callous to God.
E #4 Leprosy Causes Numbness to Pain: Third, leprosy caused numbness to pain. This is a terrible side effect of Leprosy, but was often the cause of much more damage. Because the nerve endings would cease to work properly, a leper would very often hurt themselves and not realize it. They’d sit too close to the fire, and scald their leg, and not realize what they’ve done. They would bash their toe on the corner of their house, and not realize how bad the injury was. Or they’d cut themselves severely, and not notice. These injuries would often cause fingers and toes to fall off because of the damage done by these injuries.
Sin Leads to Sin: O friends! Sin will always lead to sin. Little sin will always build to big sin. Little lies will always need to be covered by bigger lies. Little addictions will always lead to big addictions. But more importantly still, sin numbs you to its deathly affects. A sinner, stuck in sin, is like a Leper whose walking around with a bashd in toe not realizing it. He can’t see his own foolishness.
Illustration: Gambling Friend: Years ago, I had a close friend who was beginning to develop a bad gambling habit. I tried to warn him that he needed to get out while he could. That this was getting out of hand. I humorously drew a chart for him showing how things might go well for a while, but one day they would all come crashing down. I tried to warn him. He couldn’t see it. He was blind to it. One day he called me on the phone, after not seeing each other for a few years, and shared that my chart had come true. He’d lost his job and all his money, and was hoping for a chance to restart.
Sin numbs you to the great joy that is yours in Christ.
F #5 Leprosy Ultimately Robs You of Life: Lastly, leprosy ultimately robs you of life. When you put all of this together. When you add it all up. What do you discover. Leprosy robs a person of life. While a person is alive, they are a miserable wretch, cut off from everything good in life, isolated, alone, without a cure. And in death, it is no better, for even the bodies of the leper who had died could not be prepared for burial in the same way and with the same affection. It robbed you of life in life, and in death.
Sin: This is the full force of sin. God made us for life. Life to the full. God made us for community. God made us for worship. God made us for meaningful work. God made us to raise families, and to build communities. And to do all of this to the glory of God. But sin ruins it all. It suffocates a man. It numbs a man to his responsibilities. It makes a man callous to true joys of life. It makes a slothful in his religious duties before a holy God. It makes a man heartless before others. It draws a mans mind away from its God assigned responsibilities to love God and love others, and twists a man into a monster of himself, primarily focused on temporarily satisfying his own little world. Until his mind is consumed with empty vain thoughts. His affections, even on his best days, are imroper, bent, wholly inadequate.
“Oh, learn to pity your own soul, for he who sins offends and wrongs God, but also wrongs and destroys his own soul”
G What is Your Posture Towards Sin?: Now, read with me verse 12 again to make sense of this leper’s straining to get to Jesus,
Luke 5:12 ESV While 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.”
The Lepers: This precious man, this dying man, sprinted to Christ. Notice, Christ was “in one of the cities.” This means the Leper broke the protocol, broke through the boundaries. He did whatever he had to do to get to the one man he believed by faith could heal him. He fell on his face and begged of Christ.
Turn On Us: Friends this is the posture of a man or a woman who has come to understand the sinfulness of sin. When we come to Jesus, we are not just coming for a hug, for a kind encouraging word, for a pep talk, for some help along the way. He is not our guidance counselor. Christ is our only hope. A Christian is one who has seen the rot within, understood the defilement of their soul, and has layed down on their face, before Christ, and said, “Lord, if you will, you can me clean.” Is this you? And I am not only referring to that first time you believed in Christ. Is this your regular habit when you confront sin in your life? Get to Jesus, he can deal with it. If left to its own it will rot me from the inside out.
II THE PRESCRIPTION
Now look at Jesus response in verse 13,
Luke 5:13 ESV And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.
A I Will, Be Clean: Let us consider these incredible words from our savior. There is a deep mine of truth and power in these few words that deserve utmost attention.
I Will: First, “I will.” Christ is willing to heal and redeem and forgive. Christ is eager to pour out his love on all who come to him. Jesus will never say no to a penitent sinner who falls down before seeking healing from the great healer. Jesus is ready to show compassion. This is good news for every person in this room, but let particularly call out two people.
Backslidden: First, to the backslidden. Those who know and love Christ, but are in here today and know that you have been distant from God. You know that there are little sins that present in your life that are not honoring to God. Perhaps you are in here today and you have felt more eager to engage the things of the flesh, rather than the things of God. In short, you have let the ravaging leprousy slowly gain a footing in your life. You are like Jonah doing all you can to ignore God’s voice beckoning you. Friends that path led to Jonah’s being swallowed by the whale and brought to near death. Hear this, my friend. Christ is willing. If you will come today with the faith of this leper. With this humility of this leper. If you will call upon him in genuine repentance, he delights in receiveing that faith, and healing you, and setting your course straight.
“There is no sin so great that our fellowship cannot be restored, if we humbly call it sin, and through faith bring that specific sin under the blood of Christ. When my heart condemns me and cries, “You have done it again,” I am to believe God again as to the value of the finished work of Jesus Christ.”Francis Schaeffer
Wounded: The second group I want to particulary speak to, is the wounded. While we all have sin that must be repented of, some in this room have on top of their own layers of sin, layers of wounds from others. For many, unfortunately, those wounds came from parents who mistreated, who didn’t cherish you, who belittled you, or worse. For some in this room, your wounds are so deep. Yours are like the wounds of young Joseph, who was sold by his own brothers into slavery. Remember, though abandoned by his brothers, he was never abandoned by God. And those wounds, if left without the healing power fot he gospel applied in the proper way, will fester in the same way that leprosy festers. The precious news of the Gospel, is that Jesus desires to heal you of that as well. He is willing. Learning to apply the Gospel to our wounds, is one of the most precious gifts a healthy Church can ever give you. Jesus wants to give you life.
Be Clean: Second, Jesus says, “Be clean.” And immediately, the Leper is cleaned. In the original language this is one word, in an imperative. And for the second in the Gospel of Luke we come across this strange language. We are told the Leprosy “left him.” That is the kind of language that is used when demons leave a person. But I don’t think is speaking of demons. The disease left the man. His skin was miraculously healed.
The Gospel: Church, Jesus doesn’t just forgive our sins. Jesus cleanses us from our sins. Jesus doesn’t just say “Your sins are passed over.” Jesus does away with our sin by crucifying it on the cross. At the cross, Christ loaded upon his shoulders every sin that you or I ever have or will commit. People often times will ask me why the God of the Old Testament is so full of wrath and the God of New Testament seems so full of mercy. I will tell them, I don’t think you’ve read the New Testament. The greatest amount of wrath and judgment of God is not seen in the Old Testament, it is seen at the cross, as it is poured out on one man. He carried your sin on that cross. The prophet Isaiah said of him.
Isaiah 53:5 “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
O what glorious words we have in this text. “I will, be clean.” Christ stands ready today to say those words over any person who desires to receive them by faith. You need not any strength of your own. The Leper was dying, and so are you. Come to Christ, let him speak those precious words to you as well.
C Jesus Touched Him: I want to note one more detail of this section, and that is that Jesus touched the Leper. This touching took place at the exact of moment of the healing, and so Jesus is not becoming unclean according to ceremonial law. But I want to focus on the touch. What must this man have experienced in his heart, as Jesus reached out his hand to touch him? Here is a man who had been so isolated from community that others feared to be in eye sight of him. Religious leaders particularly kept their distance so that they would not become unclean. But Jesus reached out and touched the Leper. What must that touch have meant for that man? It must have communicated that Jesus saw him as a person. It must have communicated that Jesus cared for him as a person.
D In Our Lives: If you are a Christian, we must take special not of the way Christ did ministry. It wasn’t from a distance. It was up close and personal. Christians are uniquely equipped by God for this kind of up close and personal healing of souls. You will often be the hands of Christ, the voice of Christ, and the heart of Christ as you love the least of these. Do not grow weary in your sacrificial love. You are paying forward what Christ has done for you. It’s one healed leper reaching out to another leper. One loved sinner, reaching out to another broken sinner, with the message of unfailing love. Do not grow weary in that work.
III THE PROOF
Lastly, as I close, I want to show the proper response of a man or woman that has truly been cleansed by Christ.
Luke 5:14 ESV And 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.”
A Follow the Law: What is Christ doing here? He’s accomplishing two things. First Christ is affirming his commitment to the law of God in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 14, we read of the proper protocol for a man who has been healed of his leprosy. That protocol involved presenting yourself to a priest who could provide the final authorization for that person to enter back into the community. In short, Jesus expected a person who had been saved and cleansed to follow God’s law. Of course, Christ has fulfilled the ceremonial law. We no longer have a temple and priests and sacrifices, because Christ accomplisehd all of that in full. But Christians must follow God’s Moral law! This is what it means to walk in the Spirit, its to obey Christ’s commands.
B A Proof to Them: Christ says that he is to go to the priest for a proof to them. In other words, “Go provide witness and evidence to the miraculous healing power that is at work among you right now.” Prove the skepts wrong, by letting them see the transformation in your life. Well this leads me to two very simple applications.
Baptism: First, one way that Christians show the world publicly what Christ has accomplished in their life is through baptism. Baptism is your Church, coming alongside you, as the priest came alongside the healed leper, and saying, “I see evidence that you have been healed by Christ.” Friends, if you have never been baptized as a believer, this is your time to make a public proclamation. We would like do baptisms early in the new year. We have a class on November 19th to learn more.
Live Boldly For Christ: But secondly, Church, live boldly for Jesus in all that you do. Let your life be a public declaration and proclamation of the healing power of Jesus. Jesus taught us,
Matthew 5:15 ESV Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
The watching world may be skeptical to the claims of Christ. But may the never be skeptical of the obvious testimony of Christian transformation. May our lives preach as loud as our mouths, that Christ truly heals.