As Jesus and His disciples were traveling to the cities and towns around Galilee, the Lord continued to do His work of teaching and miraculous healing. Crowds came from all over to follow this wildly popular young preacher. Many came to see the incredible things He could do. But often people ended up talking about the remarkable things He said.
One day, a man who was covered with leprosy came up to Jesus. This terrible disease destroyed the lives of its victims. Their skin would grow white with hideous sores. Sometimes it would infect their hands and feet so that their fingers and toes would fall off. To the Jewish people, anyone with leprosy was considered ceremonially unclean. The Old Testament Law declared them so, and as painful as that must have been, it was a powerful protection for the people. It kept the disease from spreading. Yet for the lepers who had to live with the disease, it was a devastating consequence of humanity’s rebellion against God. They had to live their lives as untouchables, separated from their families and community. Anyone who touched them would become unclean.
The lepers of Jesus’ day isolated themselves far from the rest of the people. Imagine if you discovered your friend had leprosy? What if you husband or wife or child came down with it? What if it was you? Imagine the pain of being sent away from the rest of your family. Imagine if nobody touched you or hugged you for years and years of your life. When you did walk among people, you had to cry out “Unclean!” to warn others not to accidentally rub against you. Imagine how deep the loneliness would become as the disease spread further across your body.
In the days of Christ, leprosy was a hopeless, painful prison. The leper who came up to Jesus desperate for freedom! He had heard of the young Preacher who seemed to have healing power. He searched out the Lord, and when he found Him, he fell down on his knees. He bowed before Jesus with his face to the ground and said, “‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’” What confidence he had in the power of Christ!
As Jesus looked at the man, He was filled with compassion. He reached out His hand, touched the leper, and said, “‘I am willing. Be clean!’” Immediately, the leprosy completely cleared away. The man was totally and utterly healed.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like for this man to have someone reach out and touch him? How many years had it been since he had felt human touch? And what shock did he feel to see the disease disappear and leave healthy flesh behind! Everything had changed!
Now, according to Old Testament law, when Jesus touched this man, He became defiled. It was a real risk. What if He got the disease as well? But Jesus was more concerned about showing compassion. The Laws of Moses in the Old Testament were given to help the nation of Israel live with purity and holiness until the time of God’s great victory over sin and death. Jesus, the Holy One of God, who was perfectly pure in every way, touched what was impure and transformed it. But unlike everyone else, He had not become unclean! He was bringing in a whole new time of history! He had come to reverse the power of this Cursed world with the in breaking of the Kingdom of God!
But Jesus’ care for the man wasn’t over. He went ever further by giving him very careful commands, “‘See to it that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.’”
According to the Law of Moses, the great Jewish covenant with the Most High God, anyone who was healed from a skin disease could go to the priest with special offerings. If the priest accepted his sacrifices, it was like a declaration that the healing was complete. The leper would be allowed to rejoin his family and live in society once again! His whole life would be restored. Isn’t it beautiful?
If the priest said that this leper was clean, it would also be a declaration of Christ’s divine power, for there was no cure to leprosy. Only God could do that! The leper was being given the honor of declaring the power of the Messiah to the religious leaders of his nation through the transformation of his own body.
But why wouldn’t Jesus want him to tell anyone about this amazing miracle? Why wouldn’t He want the word to spread? Well, if it did, the people would understand that the healing of a leper was a very powerful, supernatural act. Jesus knew that if people heard about it, they would start to seek Him out. But they would not be seeking Him with the desire to learn truth. They would come to see the thrill of spectacular miracles. They would treat the sacred preaching of God’s Son and His outpouring of compassion like it was entertainment. That is not why Jesus came, and it wasn’t what the miracles were for.
What would you do if you were the leper? If Jesus healed you from a disease that was destroying your life, what would you do when He gave you instructions? Would you obey?
Unfortunately, that is not what the leper did. Instead of going straight to the priest like Jesus said, he went around and told everyone what had happened. The whole town knew! It raised such an uproar that Jesus couldn’t even walk down the street. He had to stay outside of town in lonely places, far from the curious eyes of the people. Jesus had saved this man from isolation, but this man’s disobedience forced Jesus out to the areas where nobody lived.
Word continued to spread even farther about this miracle that only God could do. People came from all over for healing. Day after day, week after week, the Lord tended to the sick and the demon possessed, setting the captives free from their pain and shame.
In the midst of all this busy ministry and exhausting work, Jesus would take Himself away to be with His heavenly Father. He would go into the wilderness, far from the rest of humanity, to a place where He could pray.