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.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
Mark’s gospel announces the best good news that this world has ever heard. It is the good news that God’s saving promises concerning Israel, the nations, and this world are fulfilled through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the King. We have seen that it is an ancient biography but one that is different from other ancient biographies. This is true because Mark was convinced that his subject, Jesus of Nazareth, is the most important person who has ever lived. Mark believed this and writes in this way because Jesus was not defeated by death as were all other great men but instead defeated death and the evil powers behind death, idolatry, and sin through dying. And, the proof of this truth is that he was raised from the dead.
Finally, on an individual level—and I desperately want you to get and see this as we go through Mark—Mark’s gospel announces the good news that through the work of Christ, primarily at the cross, people who turn to him and believe discover what it means to be truly human and to be truly free to live out one’s purpose on this earth—one’s purpose as a creature made in God’s image. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death, he reconciles people to God. He cleanses their sins, makes them holy, and empowers them by his Spirit. He restores them to fellowship with God and to service in God’s kingdom. That is what the Gospel of Mark is all about.
Now, from this passage, I want us to see an important truth about Jesus. It is that he has compassion for the marginalized. However, he is more than just compassionate. Many people have compassion for the less fortunate, but they do not have the power to do much, if anything, about it. Jesus, however, more than just having compassion, does something about the marginalization of people created in God’s image by restoring them into fellowship in God’s community. That is what I want us to see today as we look at Mark 1:40-45. Jesus demonstrated his great compassion by restoring a person that had been marginalized from Jewish society.
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean. Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in the desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.
LEPROSY, PHYSICALLY SHAMEFUL AND CULTURALLY DESPISED
There are a few things that I want to note about this story. The first concerns leprosy. Leprosy was physically shameful and culturally despised, so much so that the afflicted person was driven literally to the margins or to the desolate places of Jewish society. Leprosy was a dreadful disease to have in first century Judaism not just because of the disease itself. That was bad enough. It was a disfiguring skin disease that would have certainly caused great embarrassment, shame, and pain to the individual. However, just as bad as the physical toll that it took on an individual was the social damage that leprosy waged upon its victims.
As we saw from our Scripture reading in Leviticus (see above), the person who had a malignant form of leprosy, as this man did, was not allowed to take part in normal communal life among his fellow Israelites. Rather, he had to live outside the camp or outside the community alone in the desolate places. The reason for this, at the time in which the events of Leviticus took place, is that the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place—the place where heaven and earth met—was located in the center of the Israelite camp. And, in order for God’s people to continue to live around the dwelling place of God, nothing unclean could enter or continue in the camp. Leprosy was one of those things that defiled and caused a person to be ritually unclean. In fact, not only was the person with leprosy unclean, but also all those who came into physical contact with such a person became unclean and unfit for Israelite community as well.
That was a tough position to be in. And yet, that is exactly where this man in Mark’s story found himself. He had a depreciating skin disease, shaming and excruciating, and he had been pushed by his circumstances to the detested fringe of the first century Jewish world. He had been exiled to the desolate places.
JESUS GOES TO THE DESOLATE PLACES TO REDEEM HIS PEOPLE
This brings us to the next point that I want us to notice from this story. Jesus had gone to a very sketchy place or else he would have never encountered this leper. In short, what I want us to understand at this point is that Jesus goes to the desolate places to redeem marginalized people. Now, at the end of this passage, Jesus had to spend even more time in the desolate places, outside towns and communities and on the fringe because the man he healed went against Jesus’ command and openly told people about what Jesus did for him.
However, even before that occurred, Jesus himself had entered the desolate place where the marginalized and forgotten lived alone. At this point, I want to stop and note a truth that should be comforting to you. Jesus has compassion on the marginalized. We will see that illustrated in this story in just a moment. But, the very fact that the Son of God took upon human flesh and dwelt among us illustrates for us the compassion that God has, that Christ has, for the marginalized. The leper had been marginalized and exiled from Jewish society, but the fact is that all of us, no matter where we stand on the social ladder, have been exiled from God’s presence and from the kingdom of heaven.
All of us, left to ourselves, are unclean and unfit for fellowship with God and the service to God. All of us are on the outside looking into God’s community, because we have all turned to and lived in the service of idols. Let that sink in. This is not just the story about a first century leper. This is the story of each and every one of us. None of us have leprosy but each one of us has sinned and fallen short of reflecting the good character of the Creator to the world around us. Our sin and idolatry makes us unclean and unfit for fellowship with God and service in God’s family.
And yet, God the Son, the Creator of heaven and earth, took upon flesh and identified with us in the sorrow of this desolate, deformed world. He came to us because he cares about the marginalized. He has compassion on those alone and afraid. He is merciful toward those enslaved to various sins, even though the fault of that slavery is our own. In fact, Jesus’ compassion and mercy is illustrated beautifully for us in the next truth that I want you to notice from this text.
JESUS IS MOVED WITH PITY TOWARD THE MARGINALIZED AND IS ANGERED BY THAT WHICH GRIEVES HIS PEOPLE
When Jesus was approached by this leper and the leper pled with him to be clean, verse 41 says that Jesus was moved with pity and that he stretched out his hand and touched him. What I want you to understand at this point is that Jesus is moved with pity toward the marginalized and is angered by that which grieves the people whom he created in his image. That Jesus was moved with pity and that he actually touched this man are points that we must not miss.
Again, Jesus had pity and compassion when he saw this leprous man. Interestingly, there is scholarly disagreement as to what pity means in this verse. There are textual variants in the available manuscripts so that we are not entirely sure whether Mark intends to say that Jesus was moved with pity or with anger. It doesn’t really matter what Mark intended to say because, on some level, the entire life and ministry of Jesus shows that both were true. Jesus was moved to pity and compassion for the marginalized or else he would not have went to desolate places to minister to lepers and outcasts. Jesus was also angry. We see this as well when Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. That Jesus wept conveys not just that he was sad, but that he was angry as well. Jesus was angry that there are dehumanizing forces in this world that cause people to suffer and to feel alone.
If you think that God is distant and that he does not care, then realize what this passage and all the gospels are telling us. Realize and understand the uniqueness of the gospel. In Jesus, the Creator himself drew near to us. He approached us in our uncleanliness and brokenness. Heaven and earth touched in an individual, and that individual went into the desolate places. And, one reason that God the Son took upon flesh is that human suffering and a world that reflected something other than his goodness made him angry.
Shootings at airports and night clubs make God angry. Child abuse makes God angry. Death makes God angry. Jesus was angered that we live in a world in which diseases deform his image bearers and in which the people who most need community and compassion are so often driven to the margins and forgotten. Violence, disease, death, dehumanizing sin, and selfishness make God angry, and it made Jesus angry. It should make us angry. In fact, I want you to see that it made Christ angry enough and moved with enough compassion and pity that he did the unthinkable, the unimaginable.
JESUS TOUCHED THE LEPER AND MADE HIM CLEAN
Verse 41 says—it emphases for us so that we will not miss it—that when Jesus was moved with pity, compassion, or anger—that he stretched out his hand and touched the leper. This was strictly forbidden by Jewish law. The reason that this man was driven to live alone in the desolate places was because if someone touched him, they too would become unclean and unfit for Jewish society. You did not touch someone or something that was unclean, or else you would become unclean and unfit for community yourself. And, yet Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. Please realize and understand that Jesus didn’t have to do this. We learn in the Gospels that Jesus didn’t even have to be in the same town with a person to heal them. We would say that he didn’t even have to be in the same zip code. By the power of his word, Jesus could grant life to the dead from miles away. Jesus most definitely did not have to touch this leper, but he stretched out his hand and touched him anyway.
There are two things that I want us to take away from this. First, when Jesus touched this leper we see a clear picture of the good news that Mark tells in this gospel. As one commentator puts it, “The whole of the gospel is here in a nutshell: Christ redeems us from the curse by becoming under a curse for our sake (Gal. 3:13).” When Jesus went to the cross, the New Testament tells us that he went as a sacrifice for our sins to cleanse us, to make us holy, and to restore us into fellowship with God and his community. This, as we will see, is exactly what Jesus did for this man as well. Our idolatry and sin make us unclean and unfit for fellowship with God. However, by going to the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sins, Jesus makes a way for us to have our sins cancelled and our lives made clean. He makes us fit for fellowship with God and life in God’s family and kingdom. Through faith in Christ and his death for us, we are reconciled to God and we are cleansed of our sin, made holy, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in service to God. We are empowered to go to the desolate places and to the marginalized just as Jesus did to help restore the broken and forgotten.
Second, and connected to the point that I just made, when Jesus touched the man, it did not cause Jesus to become unclean. Rather, it caused the leper to become clean. For any other person to have touched the leper would have caused that person to be unclean and then they both would have been unfit for first century Jewish society. However, Jesus had the opposite effect of making the man clean with his touch. Again, this is what Jesus does for us as those marginalized and exiled from God and his kingdom. For those who hope in him, Jesus restores them into fellowship with God and into God’s family. His touch makes us clean.
JESUS RESTORED THE CLEANSED MAN TO FULL COMMUNAL LIFE
Finally, I want us to notice that Jesus restored this once marginalized man to full communal life. We see this in verse 44. Jesus healed him of leprosy and told him to go to the priest to make an offering for cleansing. By going to the priest and making an offering for cleansing, this man would have been restored to full communal life and participation in first century Jewish society. Jesus restored this man physically, spiritually, and socially.
Again, we should see ourselves in this story. Not leprosy, but sin separates us from God’s family and kingdom. However, Jesus restores us through his sacrificial death for us. We were all booted from God’s family and kingdom, driven to the desolate places where we became enslaved to false gods and powers, but Jesus took upon himself our transgressions. He went to the desolate places and bore the full weight of that slavery and was crushed beneath the evil powers of this world.
But, he didn’t remain in the grave. He was bruised but not beaten. Rather, he rose from the dead, proving that he had triumphed over disease, death, and the devil, and proving that he had made a way for us to be restored into fellowship with God and into the fellowship of his family. Jesus has compassion on the marginalized of this world, which in one way or another has included every single one of us!
Now, for a few moments, I want us to think about how this applies to us. First, and foremost, if you have never trusted in Christ and are still in a desolate place, without God and without hope in the world, realize that through turning from the path you are on to Jesus, you can be forgiven and restored into fellowship with God. You can join his family. You can be empowered to live in service to God in this world. You can join Christ in helping those who need the good news of restoration. So, if you’ve never hoped in Christ, my prayer is that this would be the day that you find your life in his.
Second, I want us to see in this message the importance of the church and church fellowship. Just as the leper was able to return to first century Jewish society once he was healed and cleansed, so being redeemed through faith in Christ makes us members of Christ’s family. And Christ’s family, his community, is represented on this earth in local churches. It is vitally important that if we belong to Jesus, that we belong to a local church as well. It is vital that we take part in serving together, loving one another, and bearing each other’s burdens. The church is Christ’s new community filled with people who have been restored to fellowship with God and united together in one family. We represent to this world the joys of the world to come. If you have been restored to God by Christ, then you have also been restored to his family and you need to be involved with and in that family in a local church setting.
Finally, for those of us who hope in Jesus the King, we must realize that just as Jesus restored the marginalized, so we have been called to do the same. We have been called to carry the good news and the compassion of Jesus to those who need it. And, we are not just go take the good news and our compassion to our well-off neighbors either. We are to take it even to the desolate, seemingly shady places of this world. People need the good news that Jesus restores sinners to God and to his family. They need to see the compassion that God has for them in our compassion and in our willingness to meet their needs. May we be about that business in our daily lives! Jesus has compassion on the marginalized, and as those who have been restored from the margins ourselves, we should show compassion to those who have been marginalized in our communities.
People aren’t marginalized and pushed to the edge of our communities because of leprosy but they are for other reasons. Some are pushed to the margins due to their socio-economic condition. Others are pushed to the margins either intentionally or unintentionally because they are in the minority racially from the majority of those in the community. Still, some are on the margins because of unpopular choices that they’ve made morally and socially. However, for whatever reason people find themselves on the fringe of our communities, Jesus calls us to go to them, to befriend them, and to attempt to restore them. He calls upon us to share with them and embody for them the good news—the good news that the Creator has compassion, that their lives matter to him, that he offers forgiveness and new life, and that he has redeemed a new people of compassion and restoration who welcome broken people.
R. Alan Cole, Mark in TNTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989), 119.
If you’re in the Paducah area and want to talk more about King Jesus and what it means to live in his new world, I would love to sit down with you over a cup of coffee (my treat!). Contact me, and let’s meet! I also invite you to come and worship the King with me at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. We meet for worship weekly at 10:30 on Sunday mornings.