The Gospel of Mark - Part 6
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The man with leprosy, vv. 40-45
As this first chapter draws to its close, it is interesting to look back upon the service of the perfect Servant and to see what He has accomplished. The demoniac in the synagogue, the multitude of diseased and possessed folk, and, here, the leper all come into contact with the Saviour. It would appear that Mark collects together the hopeless cases. The demoniac had remained undiscovered, until the Lord came. Those that were brought to Simon Peter’s house had not found a cure, until the Lord came. Those, of that same multitude, that were possessed with demons were not delivered until they found the Lord. Finally, Mark tells us of this leper, a man beyond the care and cure of normal medicine – until he meets the Saviour.
The attitude of the leper, v. 40
The approach of this leper to the Saviour is most instructive. It displays a man of considerable appreciation in respect to the person of the Saviour. Mark tells us that he came and knelt down to the Lord. Here is an action that acknowledges that the Saviour deserves worship. His words, ‘Thou canst make me clean’ tell us that he recognized the Saviour’s ability to cure and cleanse him of this terrible disease. It was an expression of faith, as well as a testimony to the character of the Lord.
The leper’s appreciation of the Saviour’s greatness is coupled with his recognition of his own need. He was:
- Desperate: ‘there came a leper to him, beseeching him’. Luke tells us that he was full of leprosy. Thus, beyond all human help he implores the Saviour to intervene with a miracle. St. John comments, ‘This man knew that he was too bad for priest or people but hopes that he was not too bad for Christ’. 1
- Undeserving: ‘if thou wilt’. He could not ask on the basis of merit, or as a worthy cause. He recognized that any cure could only be accomplished as a consequence of the unmerited favour of the Saviour. He comes, humbly, to ask for help. Wuest comments, ‘There are two words in Greek meaning to be willing, to desire, thelo, a desire that comes from one’s emotions, and boulomai, a desire which comes from one’s reason. The first is used here. The leper appeals to the tenderheartedness of the Messiah’. 2
- Unclean: ‘thou canst make me clean’. He appreciated that his need was to be cleansed. He was constituted ceremonially unclean and this, effectively, banished him from human society. He recognized that the need was individual, personal to him, and without reference to any others.
The affection of the Saviour, v. 41
It is only Mark that tells us of the compassion of the Saviour, ‘Jesus, moved with compassion’. This glimpse of the heart of the Saviour tells us of His pity for the plight of this man. Although others may be affected by the sight of a man in the grip of this loathsome disease, the Saviour was moved not just to pity him but also to effect his cleansing and cure. Hiebert observes, ‘the verb moved denotes not only a pained feeling at the sight of the suffering but also a yearning to relieve it. Doubtless deeply conscious of the social ostracism that his leprosy had brought upon him, Jesus’ warm touch moved the man’s heart and assured him of the true love of Jesus for an outcast like himself’. 3
Love without words or action is not love at all, but an open sham. However, the Lord demonstrated His affection. He ‘saith unto him, I will; be thou clean’. The man’s faith in Christ was rewarded with the cleansing he sought!
The action of the Saviour, v. 41
A man who was a leper and therefore constituted ceremonially unclean, was automatically banished from human society. All contact both physical and social was forfeit and he either lived alone or amongst a colony of other lepers.
A further demonstration of the love and affection of the Saviour came by His touch, He ‘put forth his hand, and touched him’. He did not need to touch to effect the cleansing and cure. Mark will tell us in the next verse that the spoken word was what brought that cleansing. The touch was the evidence that the Saviour had wrought the cure and that by it the leper was brought back into human society once more – restored to the fellowship of his family and friends. Wuest comments, ‘The first kind touch of a human hand that leper ever experienced, was the gentle touch of the Son of God’. 4
The accomplishment of the cure, v. 42
Mark’s words are in keeping with the tenor of his Gospel. He tells us, ‘as soon as He had spoken, immediately’. The cure was:
- Immediate – ‘immediately’. He did not need to wait, for as soon as the Saviour spoke the cleansing came. Neither was the cleansing gradual in its emergence. It was immediately obvious that things had changed.
- Complete – ‘the leprosy departed from him’. What the Saviour said was accomplished in full. He had said, ‘be thou clean’, and this was what was effected. The use of the words, ‘departed from him’, also signify the completeness of the change. There was no trace of leprosy remaining. He was completely separated from the disease.
The advice of the Saviour, vv. 43, 44
The language of these verses is very strong and means that the leper would be left in no doubt as to what was required of him. As to the reason for the charge given to the cleansed leper, Cole suggests, ‘Christ never desired men to be drawn to follow Him simply in hopes of material and bodily benefits to be obtained from Him’. 5 The Saviour gave clear command to the leper as to what he should do:
- Stay silent – ‘see thou say nothing to any man’, v. 44. He was not required to publish his cleansing. This was not a priority but fulfilling the requirements of the law was.
- Show himself to the priest – ‘shew thyself to the priest’, v. 44. This was the personal duty of the leper and the Lord stressed it as such. If the cleansing that he had received were to be officially recognized then the leper must first go to the priest. This was what the law required and this action would mean the leper could be received back into society officially and ceremonially.
- Sacrifice in keeping with the law – ‘offer for thy cleansing’, v. 44. The true expression of the reality of his cleansing and of gratitude to God for the cleansing was to be made through sacrifice. This requirement of the law was to be kept as a clear statement to the company of priests that the Messiah had come.
From the verse that follows, it would seem that the Saviour knew what the leper would do and sought to instruct him as to the right path – the path of obedience.
The announcement of the leper, v. 45
In disobedience to the Saviour’s command, the leper went out and published abroad the cleansing he had received. Hiebert describes it as an aggressive action. It was not a single act but a continuous proclaiming, blazing abroad the fame of the Saviour. The outcome of this activity was that ‘Jesus could no more openly enter into the city’.
This error of the leper had a detrimental effect in two respects:
- It hindered the Lord’s ministry – ‘could no more enter into the city’. It was not that His entrance into one city was barred but that He was not able to enter any city because He would be mobbed by the populace.
- It focused upon the healing ministry rather than the preaching – ‘they came to him from every quarter’. The Lord said that He had come to preach, v. 38. This was His purpose, but the testimony of the leper placed stress upon the healing that had been accomplished in support of the message. Sadly, people came to the Lord to find the solution to their physical need and neglected the greater spiritual need that they had.
There are practical applications in this incident. Whilst the cleansed leper acted in gratitude and his actions may be wholly understandable – he wanted others to know – he failed to consider that he was violating the express command of the Lord. How important that our zeal to tell others about the Saviour does not lead us to act contrary to His revealed will. Zeal in service does not excuse disobedience.
The result of the man’s disobedience in reporting his cure produced a rush to the Lord as a miracle worker and, as a consequence, He could no longer enter the city. It brought His synagogue ministry to an abrupt halt. There are many today who detract from the true gospel by offering a ministry of so-called healing and the concentration upon the physical leaves the spiritual and eternal need unresolved.
The Lord had given this leper the desire of his heart. The true gratitude of the leper’s heart should have been demonstrated in obedience and worship, but the account here indicates neither. How sad, but what a lesson for us – the Lord must have His portion first!
1 St. John, op. cit., pg. 33.
2 Wuest, op. cit., pg. 40
3 Hiebert, op. cit., pg. 59
4 Wuest, op. cit., pg. 41.
5 Cole, op. cit., pg. 64.