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Cleansing Lepers

Leprosy. The Hebrew word for it literally meant a smiting or a scourge; that is doubtless how its victims felt. The Law of Moses called for the leper to be quarantined. He was to tear his clothes, leave his hair tangled, cover his upper lip, and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” (Numbers 13:45). Only after an involved purification process could he be readmitted to society.

How fitting it was that Jesus employed such miserable people and social misfits to manifest His grace and glory. Cleansing lepers was a clear signal of Jesus’ identity (Matthew 11:2-6).

A Revealing Miracle
Matthew (8:1-5), Mark (1:40-45), and Luke (5:12-15) all relate an early example of Jesus cleansing a leper. The man was full of leprosy. He implored, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus touched him, and immediately the leprosy left him.

Ordinarily, touching a leper would render one unclean. But this was the touch of healing, and Mark also notes that it was a touch of compassion. By this miracle Jesus confirmed both His power, which the leper acknowledged, and His willingness to help, about which the leper was less certain. That is the same divine power to cleanse and inclination to help that is the basis of our salvation from sin which, like leprosy, blots and destroys us spiritually.

An interesting component of this story is that Jesus instructed the leper to tell no one about the miracle. In part, that was because he first needed to go show himself to the priest, in keeping with the Law (Leviticus 14:2ff). But it was also because Jesus was attracting too large crowds. So many people sought physical healing that it made preaching, Jesus’ primary work, more difficult (see Mark 1:37-38). What a contrast to modern charlatans who have no power yet broadly advertise their “healing services!”

A Revealing Response
Luke records another cleansing late in Jesus’ life. Passing through Samaria, the Lord encountered ten lepers who cried out for mercy. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest. On the way they were cleansed. One of the ten, a Samaritan, returned to glorify God and thank Jesus. The Savior asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except ths foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

What happened to the nine? Were they ungrateful? Surely not! Were they grateful but did not think it necessary to say so? Gratitude—like grace, mercy, faith, and so many other things—is really of little value if it is not expressed. Were they too anxious to enjoy their new freedom and did not have time for thanksgiving? Were they so absorbed with the gift that they forgot the giver? Whatever the explanation, it is a sad scene. Let’s not repeat it with regard to our cleansing from sin.

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