- The Leper’s Request (Luke 5:12)
- The Lord’s Reach (Luke 5:13-14)
- The Crowd’s Request (Luke 5:15)
- The Lord’s Retreat (Luke 5:16)
Imagine a man. He is in his mid thirties. He has just started out in life. He has a beautiful wife and two adorable little children, with a third one on the way. His marriage has had its ups and downs, but he and his wife always seem to work things out. He has a good job, and his own piece of land. He’s building a nice house on it, and figures that they will be done with it in about five or six years. One day he comes home from work and shows his wife a small sore that developed on his hand from using a certain tool too much. It’s not real painful, but it does keep him from working on his house that evening.
He takes it easy at work for a couple of days, but the sore just keeps getting larger and larger, but it still doesn’t hurt. After a few days however, they both get alarmed, and she persuades him to go see a person in town who knows about such things. This person isn’t a doctor, but he has been trained in the area of skin infections and things of that sort. This man looks at it, studies a few books he has lying around, and says, “It’s hard to determine what this is. I have a few theories, but I want to be sure. So I need you to stay here for two weeks so I can observe this sore.”
So that is what they do. And for two weeks, the sore gets bigger and bigger, until it almost covers his whole hand. It becomes white around the edges. It doesn’t cause much pain, but it sure looks horrible. At the end of two weeks, the man with the medical training says to the younger man, “I have figured out what it is you have. I am sorry to inform you that you have…leprosy. You are going to have to leave your wife and children, your land, your home, your job, and go off to live with the other lepers out behind the town.”
Hearing this, the man is terrified. It is a death sentence. And the process of dying by leprosy is worse than dying itself. In most cases, the body of the person just rots to pieces while the person continues to live. But this is not what terrifies the man. He is not afraid of dying. He is not afraid of the process leading up to it. What he is afraid of is the complete separation and isolation that is about to begin. Although the physical ravages of leprosy are bad, the mental and emotional damage it causes is even worse.
They were required to keep as far away from all healthy people as possible. Whenever someone drew near who did not have leprosy, the leper was supposed to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” Lepers are never allowed to be near their loved ones again. But this man’s leprosy hadn’t gone very far yet. Maybe he could go home one last time. He desperately wants to tell his loved ones goodbye. He wants to tell them one last time that he loves them, and that he will always be thinking of them. “Let me go home and tell them goodbye” he begs. “Let me give my wife one last kiss.”
“I’m sorry,” says the other man. “You cannot ever go home. You can never hold your wife in your arms again. You cannot ever wrestle with your son again. You can never kiss your little girl goodnight again. If you see them, and touch them, they may get leprosy themselves. If you love them, you will never get near them again.”
So the man goes off. Alone. To rot. To die. He couldn’t even have an animal for a companion. If he patted the head of a dog, the dog had to be killed so that it did not carry the disease back into the city. This man truly lived a horrible life.
His family would come and bring him food every day. But they couldn’t get close. They would leave it at a certain place on a rock and when they withdrew, he would go pick it up and eat it. In this way, he watched his children grow up, yet was never able to touch them. He watched his wife cry as she left the food, but he was never able to comfort her. After several years of this, he started wishing they wouldn’t come any more. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see them…it was that he didn’t want them to see him. He had lost an ear already and several of his fingers and toes. His face was horribly disfigured. His hair was falling out. According to Jewish law, he wore rags for clothes, his hair was to be uncovered and disheveled, and he covered his face with a cloth (Lev. 13:45).
He knew he looked repulsive, and he didn’t want his family to remember him this way. Some days, he just wished he would die. Then one day, something happened that this man and his family would never forget.
1. The Leper’s Request (Luke 5:12)
We read about it in Luke 5:12-16. Jesus was traveling about the cities of Galilee,
Luke 5:12. And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus;
Here is this man. His story is probably very similar to the one I have just told you. His situation is probably very similar as well. Luke the Physician tells not just that he was a leper, but that he was full of leprosy. Leprosy ravaged his body. It was everywhere. He did not have a light case of leprosy. There really isn’t such a thing as a light case of leprosy. There are only stages from bad to worse.
Let me tell you a little bit about leprosy. Leprosy is a dreadful disease. Most people think that leprosy causes your skin to rot and fall off your body, but this is not really the case. There are numerous forms of leprosy, but the common form which most are familiar with is a disease that causes damage to the body’s nervous system. As a result, leprosy simply causes you not to be able to feel anything. Leprosy may eventually cause your whole body to go numb. When someone is blind, they cannot see; when someone is deaf, they cannot hear; when someone has leprosy, they cannot feel. The infected parts of their body goes numb and eventually loses all sensitivity.
Nerve damage can lead to a dangerous loss of feeling. A person with leprosy-related nerve damage may not feel pain when the hands, legs, or feet are cut, burned, or otherwise injured (WebMD).
So technically, having leprosy never actually kills anyone. But imagine what your life would be like if you had leprosy. Sometimes a leper would be cutting vegetables for supper, and would accidentally cut off a finger and not even know it because they had no feeling in their fingers. Sometimes, a leper would be sleeping by a fire, and would roll too close to the fire and burn off their foot in the night without ever waking up. In the extreme cold, a leper would freeze his fingers and toes without ever knowing it. So a leper does not die from leprosy, but from the damage that is done to their body because they have no feeling in their limbs. Because of this, it is a horrible disease.
But you don’t need to worry about getting it. When I was in India several years ago for a mission trip, many lepers would walk the streets and beg. They did not stand off at a distance however. They would go up to tourists, and touch them and keep touching until they were given some money just to go away. Some of them were missing ears and legs. I saw some missing fingers and toes. At first, remembering what the Bible says about leprosy, we were scared to be touched by the lepers, but our mission trip leader told us not to worry about it. First of all, 95% of the world’s population is naturally immune to leprosy. And most of the 5% who can get it live in tropical, overpopulated, underdeveloped areas like Brazil, China and India. Aside from this, even if you are susceptible to it, nobody really knows how it is spread, but one common factor is prolonged close contact with someone who has it. You most likely won’t get it if you hug a leper or share a meal with one. But even if by some chance you do contract leprosy, we now have medical treatments available in developed countries like America that can cure leprosy.
So even though we knew we could not become leprous, it was one of the saddest things I think I’ve ever seen. One old lady with leprosy attended a church service I spoke at, and came up to me afterward. With the aid of a translator, she asked me to pray for her – not that she would be healed, but that she would die. That’s not a prayer request you get every day. But that is how horrible leprosy is. And because it is so horrible, and so little is known about it, lepers are often cast out from society. They are rejected. They are treated like refuse. Many view them as garbage. They are feared. They are despised. They are neglected and scorned.
And because leprosy was such a dreaded disease, the lepers were expected to live outside the town – often in the garbage heaps, and to have no contact with former friends or family. This was for the safety of those who did not have leprosy, and also for their emotional well being. Seeing a leper who has an advanced case is a very distressing thing. This man in Luke 5 had a very advanced case of leprosy. The text says he was full of leprosy.
And one day, he looks up, and there is a small group of people following a man who is teaching them as he walks. He hears the man’s name mentioned. They called him Jesus. He has heard some about him, that he is a teacher. He would love to hear Jesus teach, but Jesus and men with him are getting closer, and he knows what the law tells him to do. So he starts shouting, “Unclean! Unclean! Stay away from me! I have leprosy! Unclean!” And just like a thousand times before, the men with Jesus shrink back. He sees the fear in their eyes. The loathing. The revulsion. He doesn’t fault them for it. He understands. He would look at himself that way too if the roles were reversed.
But something strange happens. Even as the other men draws back, Jesus keeps coming closer. “Unclean!” the man shouts louder. “Unclean! Jesus, I am unclean!” But Jesus kept coming. “Doesn’t he know the law?” the man thought to himself. “If Jesus gets any closer, he will become unclean himself.” And the man begins to cover himself in his rags so that he can hobble away from Jesus, but by then Jesus is close enough so that the man can look into his eyes. And he sees something there he hasn’t seen in another human being for many, many years. He doesn’t see loathing. He sees concern. He doesn’t see fear. He sees sympathy. He doesn’t see rejection. He sees love.
And when he sees this in the eyes of Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Can you hear the leper’s agony in this question? Can you hear his mental and emotional anguish? He was sick of being treated like garbage. He was sick of being rejected and despised.
Do you feel sometimes that people treat you like a leper? Do you feel mistreated? Overlooked or looked down upon? Do what the leper did. Cry out to God. The text says that the leper implored Jesus. Implored is a very strong word. It is more than a request. It is more than a prayer. It is an all out pleading, a tearful and earnest begging. When used all by itself, it can be translated, “Please!” You see, too many of us are too halfhearted in our prayers. We go to God in this way: “God I’ve got this little problem I’m hoping you can help me out with. But if not, I’ll just continue to deal with it on my own. Sorry to bother you. Amen.” But when you come to the place where you are like this leper, you know that you cannot deal with it on your own any longer. You know you need help. And it’s not help that any human being can give you. You need divine help. You need God’s help.
This leper doesn’t turn to one of the disciples. He doesn’t turn to another leper. He doesn’t even turn to the priest. He knows that none of them can help him. He turns to Jesus. He says “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
Notice that although the leper is imploring Jesus, he is not making demands. He is not telling God what He had better do. Nor is he making empty threats like “God, you better do this for me, or I’m going to stop going to church.” God is not mocked. He is not threatened. You cannot force God into doing anything for you. He can do anything for you, and there is nothing wrong with imploring Him, pleading with Him, boldly coming before His throne with requests, but we should never demand things from God, or attempt to threaten God into doing what we want.
Do you sometimes feel like a leper? Call out to Jesus to make you clean. Implore Him to make you clean. To change you. To cleanse you. Beg, plead, ask Him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Look what Jesus does for the man in verse 13.
2. The Lord’s Reach (Luke 5:13-14)
Luke 4:13. Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately the leprosy left him.
I love this about Jesus. Do you see it? Jesus put out His hand and touched him.
How many years had it been since someone had hugged this man? How many years had it been since someone had done something as simple as give his shoulder a loving squeeze? How many years do you think it had been since this man had been touched? He couldn’t even pet a dog without it being killed. Jesus knows this and so he put out his hand and touched him. In fact, the word is much stronger than just a touch. The Greek could literally be translated, Jesus took hold of him. Maybe he put his arm around his shoulders. Maybe Jesus embraced him. Jesus could have healed the man without touching him. He does it all the time in the Gospels. He can heal with just a word. He can heal from a great distance, without a word and without any touch. But Jesus knows that this leper needs love just as much if not more than he needs healing. Oh, the healing will be wonderful, but what he really needs is love.
Why does Jesus do this? It was a radical thing for him to do. According to Jewish law, if a person touched someone who was unclean, they became unclean also. So why did Jesus do this? First of all, he did it for the sake of the leper. Christ never heals anybody just to show others that He can heal. Christ never heals anybody to attract attention or gain public fame. No, he simply wanted to show love to the leper. Christ was not scared of his sores, or put off by his rotting flesh. The touch said, “I am here with you. I sympathize with you when no one else does. I understand. I love you.”
Do you ever feel like a leper? Jesus is saying the same thing to you. “I am here with you. I sympathize with you when no one else does. I understand. I love you.” Jesus touched the leper to show him that He loved him.
But beyond this, I believe Jesus shows love to the leper for another reason. Remember, he has just called four men to be his disciples and told them that if they followed Him, he would teach them how to become fishers of men. This is their first fishing lesson. Jesus is telling them that if they want to catch men, they first need to love them. Jesus is showing them how to become fishers of men: reach out and touch someone. Look past the scars and the wounds and the rotting flesh, the missing fingers and toes, and just love them. If you want your neighbor to become a Christian, the first thing to do is to show them Christian love. Go mow their lawn, or stack their wood. Invite them over for dinner. Find out what they need, and then meet that need.
Too often, we as Christians do our best to avoid non-Christians. Rather than seek them out, we often run from them because are scared of the situations that might arise if we befriend them. And you know what? Awkward situations will arise. But if we are going to be effective in our evangelism, we must reach out to touch the unsaved, because they certainly are not going to come into the church. This man needed to be touched, and so Jesus touched him. He didn’t tell the man to come to the synagogue on Saturday to listen to the sermon. The man never would have come. He was not accepted there. He was not allowed even to come there. And so Jesus met him where he was at, and touched him. Who in your life needs to be touched? Who in your neighborhood needs a loving word said to them, or a kind deed performed for them? We all need to make attempts to love those who often go unloved. That is what Jesus modeled here for his disciples. If we are his disciples, we will do the same thing.
Luke 5:14. And He charged him to tell no one, “But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.”
Jesus tells the man to do two things. First of all, to tell no one. This seems like a strange command, but we will see why Jesus made this command in verse 15. Let us look first at the second command. Jesus told him secondly to go and show himself to the priest, and make an offering…as a testimony to them. Though the Old Testament law had offerings and ceremonies for the person who had been cleansed of leprosy, such cleansing was very, very rare. In fact, in the Bible, prior to this event, we only read of three people who had been cleansed of leprosy, and one of them wasn’t even Jewish (Moses, Miriam and Naaman). Cleansing from this form of leprosy was always miraculous.
So when this man shows up cleansed and healed at the priest’s doorstep, this priest would have known that something amazing had just taken place in his town. Possibly this was the very priest who had pronounced the man unclean years earlier. And now here he was again, but this time whole and healed. The religious leaders of the day had developed a list of signs which would accompany the coming of the Messiah. One of them was the healing of those with leprosy. When this man appears before the priest claiming to be cleansed from what only two people had ever been cleansed from before, the priest should have recognized that the Messiah had come. When Jesus tells the man to go make the offering, it was to be a testimony to the priests that the Messiah had come. We will see later in chapter 5 that they do not respond very favorably toward Jesus. In fact, they get outright hostile. But here, Jesus is giving them an opportunity to respond by giving praise and glory to God.
Which brings us around to the question of why Jesus didn’t want this man to go spreading the news all over town. Wouldn’t God get more glory if everybody knew about the miracle that had been performed? Why does Jesus want this miracle to be a testimony to the priests, but not a testimony to the rest of the town? Why does Jesus tell the man to speak of this to no one else? The answer, I believe, is found in Luke 5:15.
3. The Crowd’s Request (Luke 5:15)
Luke 5:15. However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.
It was impossible, I suppose, for the man to not tell some people what had happened to him. I mean, the first thing he probably did after going to the priest was to go home and kiss his wife and hug his children. They all would have rejoiced at having their husband and father returned to them whole and healthy. And certainly, the neighbors would have heard about this, and the man’s friends, and eventually, the word would have spread to the entire town. And that is what verse 15 says happened. The report went around concerning Him all the more.
But then look what happened. And great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. The people didn’t really want to give glory to God. They only wanted to be healed. They didn’t want to worship God. They only wanted what they could get out of Jesus. They came to Him for selfish reasons, not for spiritual reasons. This happens all the time during Christ’s ministry. People get healed, and so, naturally, everyone shows up to get healed. But when Jesus tries to teach them, they get mad and leave. Another time, Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men, and after that, people follow him around hoping for free food. When Jesus tries to teach them, they get mad and leave. You see, the people didn’t want teaching. They only wanted their selfish desires met. They didn’t want to praise God or give glory to God. They only wanted to see a show and to get a free meal.
I fear the much of modern Christianity is the same way. Very few today honestly want to praise and give glory to God – we just come want to see what God will give us. Very few today want to feed on the Word of God, but we will gladly take a free meal. Although Jesus loves to meet people’s physical needs, He doesn’t want people to come to Him only to have those physical needs met. He wants people to come to Him so that He can meet their greatest need – that of eternal life. He wants people to seek him for spiritual healing, not just for physical healing. These people came only for what they would get out of Jesus. And so the Lord retreated from them.
4. The Lord’s Retreat (Luke 5:16)
Luke 5:16. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.
Jesus was always steering clear of the theatrics of ministry. He didn’t want the spotlight and the headlines. He just wanted an ongoing intimate fellowship with God. And for that, he had to withdraw from the people who clamored for his attention, and go out into the wilderness to pray. Jesus teaches us here how important prayer is. He shows us how vital it is to keep communication with God central in our lives. This is especially true when we are busy. “Sometimes the best thing we can do in the midst of the rush of life is to slow down and listen to God.”
Is your life a rush? Are people and events clamoring for your attention? The best thing you can do is withdraw from them, and spend time in prayer. Martin Luther used to spend three hours a day in prayer. When asked what he did on really busy days, he said that he would spend four hours in prayer. Martin Luther knew what was priority. So did Jesus. Our fellowship and closeness with God is our number one priority if we are going to be effective in our service to Him.
Do you want to be touched by Jesus? Or do you want to have the strength and the courage and power to touch others with the love of Christ? I would encourage you – do what we see Jesus doing here in verse 16. Make your time with God a priority. If you want to be touched by Jesus, go spend as much time with Him as you can. Like this leper, go, seek Him out, fall on your face before Him, humble yourself, spend time in the Word, spend time praying. Make Him a priority, and He will touch you.
And if you want to be able to share the love of Christ with others, you must let Him love you first. Seek Him out, sit at His feet and learn from Him, follow Him around the Gospels, watching what He does, listening to what He says. He wants to teach you to become a fisher of men, and the first step in that is learning to love all people, learning to touch the untouchable.
We all have much to learn in this area. How would you respond if you heard that the lady down the street who always spreads gossip about you got in a car accident and is in the hospital?
What would your thoughts be if you heard that the national spokesman for the gay rights movement died of AIDS in the hospital?
How would you react if you heard that an abortion doctor discovered a bomb in his Mercedes Benz as he was leaving for the airport for a vacation in Palm Springs?
We all need to ask Jesus to help us learn to love those we would rather not love, and to love those who maybe don’t get much love.
Philip Yancey writes about how Henri Nouwen worked among AIDS victims in San Francisco. Many Chrisians have probably thought at times that it would God’s just judgment if San Francisco fell into the ocean. But Henri Nouwen tells of young men who are dying, many of them banished from their own families, forced to hustle on the street. Many of them have had hundreds of relationships. But they are dying, they are cast off from society. They are rejected. And Nouwen says that all they want is to be loved. They want a safe place. A safe relationship. A place to call home. Someone to accept them. Someone to love them. Someone to forgive them. Of course, they are looking for love in all the wrong places, but that is no reason to reject them or fear them.
Henri Nouwen has also worked among orphanages in Peru. And here is what he writes:
How little do we really know the power of physical touch. Those boys and girls only wanted one thing: to be touched, hugged, stroked, and caressed. Probably most adults have the same needs but no longer have the innocence and unselfconsciousness to express them. Sometimes I see humanity as a sea of people starving for affection, tenderness, care, love, acceptance, forgiveness and gentleness. Everyone seems to cry, “Please love me.”
That was the cry of this leper. That is the cry of many people we all come into contact with every day. Let us be like Jesus, and reach out and touch the untouchable.