The following story is truly fictitious. This never happened with my sons. A father and 5 year-old-son had gone into a store and when they came back out, the father saw that some inconsiderate driver had scratched the side of his car. He was upset and his son could clearly see that his father was upset. The father showed his son the scratch and told him that it would cost quite a bit of money to fix. When his little boy heard that, he quickly said that he would fix it for him. The father smiled at the boy's concern and willingness to help but said that he would take care of it. Nothing more was said about it that day. A week or so later, the father went to the garage and there found his son happily painting his car... with house paint and a brush. When the father asked his son what he was doing, the son said, "I knew it would cost a lot of money and so I wanted to do it for you and fix it myself."
That is an example of disobedient zeal. The boy's heart was in the right place but he still did not follow what his father said he should do. He took matters into his own hands and it created an even bigger problem for his father. Jesus encountered a man who acted much like that young son. Jesus healed a man of the awful disease of leprosy and then told him not to tell anyone. The man did anyway and created a bigger problem than before. We too must remember that Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God and not just for our own personal desires. Let's read Mark 1:40-45.
A man comes to Jesus and Mark describes him as having leprosy! Leprosy is a contagious disease that affects the skin and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities. Any person who was a "leper" was reduced to a most pitiable state of existence. In addition to the physical ravages of the disease, he faced significant social obstacles. Leviticus 13:45 says, "The leper 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 >Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp."
A person with leprosy could get better but once he felt he was better, he was to go to the priest and be declared to be “clean.” Leviticus 14:1-3 says, "These are the regulations for any diseased person at the time of their ceremonial cleansing, when they are brought to the priest: The priest is to go outside the camp and examine them." Then follows an extensive 8 day procedure of sacrifices and cleansing to indicate that the person has been indeed cleansed. Even then, the person would be viewed with some suspicion since he had already been considered an outcast.
Later on by the time of Jesus, the rabbis had refined the leprosy laws even further. But these refinements imposed more practical difficulties upon the leper. Yet in Jesus' day lepers were allowed to live without banishment wherever they chose, except in Jerusalem and cities that had been walled from earlier times. They could even attend the synagogue services if a screen was provided to isolate them from the rest of the congregation. So there is still a significant social stigma attached to this disease in Jesus' day. With this background in mind, let's look at what happens with this man.
The leper, who had either seen Jesus' mighty works or had heard about them, came to Jesus and was pleading Jesus to remove him from the ravages and the stigma of this dreadful disease. He says, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." This man is asking for actual healing and not just for the pronouncement that he is clean ritually, which only a priest could declare. His appeal was for Jesus to do what was believed impossible by human means, to cure him of his disease.
II. Jesus' response in verses 41-42 seems to be a purely compassionate response.
Yet there is something in this verse that may not be reflected in the translation we have. In fact, a few translations will read that Jesus was "moved by indignation." There can often be indignation in compassion as well. Jesus may have been felt a righteous indignation at the ravages of sin, disease and death which take their toll on the living, a toll that was particularly high for a leper. As such, Jesus' encounter with the leper highlights Jesus’ battle against Satan. Jesus is indignant at the way sin and Satan have taken its toll on this poor man.
When I was in the church in Iowa, I remember driving to the hospital to visit a woman who had just been taken there after a stroke. Lois was a dear woman who always had a loving smile and kind words. Her stroke was a massive one and she died within hours afterwards. I remember feeling compassion for Lois and her family but also feeling the indignation at Satan and at the ravages of sin. Jesus sees this pitiable man and gets angry at sin and the power of Satan and so is moved with compassion toward him.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning, "See that you don't tell this to anyone.” The language here is very strong. It is quite possible to translate this as, "He warned him and drove him away." Now perhaps the translation can be toned down, but if it is as it reads, it may be that Jesus knew that the man would not follow his instructions.
And Jesus also said, “But go show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Jesus instructed the leper to show himself to the priests who alone could declare him to be clean and to offer the prescribed sacrifices given in the Law of Moses. The procedure is described in Leviticus 14:2-3 and involved different offerings. In Jesus' day, the man had to first show himself to a priest in his own home, and then go to Jerusalem to be pronounced clean and to make the prescribed sacrifices.
But notice that Jesus adds, "for a testimony to them;" "them" referring to the Jewish priests. The priests must examine the man to determine whether or not the leprosy has been removed. The healing demonstrates that God had done something radically new through Jesus. So Jesus is saying that if the priests accept that the healing has taken place and accept the sacrifice for cleansing but fail to recognize the power and person of Jesus, they will stand condemned by this very evidence.
IV. The man's disobedient zeal is seen in verse 45.
Mark reports, “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news.” It is not known whether the man obeyed Jesus' command to show himself to a priest, but he blatantly disregarded Jesus' command to be silent. Now remember that Jesus left Capernaum to preach and get away from the reputation as a miracle worker. Verse 45 explicitly says that after this Jesus was hindered from teaching about the kingdom as a result of this man=s failure to follow Jesus= instructions. Jesus was no longer able to enter any town without having crowds of people wanting to be healed by the one who could heal a leper! You see, while the Law of Moses provided for the ritual purification of a leper it was powerless to actually remove the disease from a person. In fact, only in two instances in all of the Old Testament, in Numbers 12:10ff and 2 Kings 5, is it recorded that God healed a leper. The rabbis taught that it was as difficult to heal a leper as it was to raise the dead.
Jesus healed a leper, but healing was not the primary mission Jesus had come to fulfill. In dealing with those who need financial help, I sometimes will give a Kroger card to help someone in financial need. Often what happens is that they immediately they tell others that this church is handing out money to those who ask! And soon there is a run of people asking for financial help. However, handing out money is not the m ain purpose of this ministry. Still the healing of the leper indicates a whole new way of God acting. The kingdom of God now transcends Old Testament ritual regulations. The old was powerless to change things but in Jesus the new brings life symbolized in this radical healing.
So how do we respond? Do we view Jesus as a radical messiah or just a nice person to have around to help us? Jesus came to remove the sting of death from our lives first and foremost. He then calls us to follow him in loving obedient service. Our life with God is about the kingdom and not just about our own needs. God is doing amazing saving things far beyond our own needs and wants in this world; we should be focusing on that more than anything. We have Jesus not just to be our own personal miracle worker but to help us to faithfully follow him as we share the good news of the kingdom with others. Philip Yancey has an important perspective on miracles for Christians today. He writes: "Some Christians long for a world well-stocked with miracles and spectacular signs of God's presence. I hear wistful sermons on the parting of the Red Sea and the 10 plagues and the daily manna in the wilderness, as if the speakers yearn for God to unleash his power like that today. But the follow-the-dots journey of the Israelites should give us pause. Would a burst of miracles nourish faith? Not the kind of faith God seems interested in, evidently. The Israelites give ample proof that signs may only addict us to signs, not to God." Again, God does take care of his children but it may be in radical ways that are quite different from what we want or think we need.