Three weeks ago, we talked about how God changes us. We used the story of Samuel and saw how God transformed a timid eleven year old boy into the greatest political and spiritual leader of his day. Two weeks ago we talked about how God, through us, also transforms our communities. We saw how Jonah went to the great city of Nineveh and called it to repent or be destroyed. It did repent and God did not bring upon it the destruction that he promised. Then last week we use the story of Moses in the wilderness with the people of Israel to demonstrate how God changes our future. Today, we are going to go one step further to understand that God restores our lives.
To do that we are going to look at the story of Jesus cleansing a leper. That happens a few times in the Bible but the story we are going to focus on is right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and is found in Mark 1:40-45 (NIV). It says this:
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See 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.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
There are a few things I want to note about this story. The first one is that the man comes to Jesus, gets down on his knees and begs Jesus to cleanse him. This man isn’t coming with any old ho-hum request. He’s on his knees. He’s practically groveling. This guy is truly desperate. And here’s why.
Leprosy in those days was something much dreaded by everyone. There was no cure and no real treatments. The only thing that could be with someone with leprosy was to quarantine them in order to protect the rest of society. That’s what was done. You’ve probably heard of leper colonies. That is where lepers were sent to live outside of mainstream society. In the day in which we live, in the midst of a global pandemic, we get the concept of quarantine in a way that other generations have forgotten. We get the fact that people need to be isolated in order to protect others from catching a disease.
That isolation doesn’t really bother some people. I’ve heard some people say that you know you’re an introvert when a pandemic happens and it really doesn’t change anything in your life. But others find self-isolation is hard to deal with. Think about this. Someone with leprosy in Jesus’ day had to self-isolate not just for two weeks but for the rest of their life. They could never again live with their family. They could never again kiss their spouse or hug their children. They could never again go to the market to purchase food or the synagogue to take part in religious practices. For the rest of their days, they lived on the margins. Think about that the next time you get frustrated that a temporary stay at home order means that you can’t have all of your family over for dinner on Saturday. This is the situation in which this man finds himself. This is why he is so desperate to be cleansed by Jesus.
TO BE CLEANSED
I also want you to note his specific request. He asks Jesus to cleanse him. What’s that all about? To be cleansed is not the same thing as being healed. To be healed is to have a disease come to an end and to be restored to health. This man wants that. He wants to be healed but it goes deeper than that. He wants to be cleansed. He wants to be cleansed because he is unclean.
To be unclean 2,000 years ago had a very specific meaning that was as much spiritual as it was physical. People could be unclean for any number of reasons, not just because of diseases although uncleanliness could be because of a disease. It also had nothing to do with being dirty. Dirt was not considered to be unclean.
There was, however, a real taboo back then about bodily fluids. Bodily fluids were supposed to stay in the body. As long as they did, everything was clean. But bodily fluids don’t always stay in the body for all kinds of reason. People became unclean when they came into contact with bodily fluids either their own or someone else’s. For example, if someone was cut, their blood would make things unclean. If someone was sick and vomited, that would be unclean. If someone spat on the road, that was unclean. Even natural bodily processes were considered unclean. A woman going through her menstrual cycle was considered unclean just as she was unclean when she had a child. These all involve bodily fluids. When someone became unclean, in most cases they could be cleansed through various processes, usually involving some sort of temporary self-isolation, ritual sacrifice or a combination thereof.
Leprosy made someone unclean because it caused bodily sores that did not heal. Anything that touched these open wounds became unclean. And the problem was that since most kinds of leprosy are incurable, the leper was always unclean. That’s why they couldn’t take part in society. That is why they were isolated and often feared by those who tried to avoid them.
This is also why it says in verse 41 that Jesus is initially indignant with the man. This man with leprosy is not supposed to be around others. He is sick. He is unclean and he could make others unclean. And although that clearly did not really bother Jesus, it put the fear of God into the other people who are with him. They would wonder what this leper thinks he is doing going into the crowd that is following Jesus.
Regardless, this is a horrible situation for anyone to endure. And that’s why the man asks Jesus to cleanse him, to make him clean. Yes, he wants to be healed but he also wants something far more important. He wants to be restored to his family and his community.
He asks Jesus to cleanse him. And then Jesus does the most extraordinary thing. It says in verse 41 that he touches the man. Why is that extraordinary? Because, as I already said, this was a huge no no back then. When Jesus touches this unclean man, he too becomes unclean. Even more extraordinary is that in touching this man, Jesus himself risks catching leprosy. This is a huge deal because Jesus doesn’t do this privately behind closed doors in some secluded place. He does it in broad daylight in front of lots of people and those people undoubtedly let out of collective gasp because they understand the significance of what Jesus just did and they realize that none of them would have had the courage to do the same thing.
Jesus wants to cleanse this man and restore him to his family and community but in order to do that Jesus has to become one with him in his uncleanness. Jesus steps into his shoes and becomes unclean in order to make the difference in his life that this man so desperately wants.
Does that sound familiar? Sure it does. Jesus entered into this man’s life to restore him to his community. In the same way Jesus enters into our lives to restore us to God. Just as Jesus took on this man’s uncleanliness so too he takes on our sin so that we can be forgiven and made right with God. That is what the cross is all about. When we were unworthy to pay the price of our own sins, Jesus willingly went to the cross for us. As it says in 1 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV), “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This reminds us that just as the man could not cleanse himself of leprosy, neither can we cleanse ourselves from sin. Just as the man needed Jesus, so do we.
It says in Mark 1:42 that immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. This man got what he wanted. He asked to be cleansed, for his leprosy to be taken away and it was. Praise be to God.
OBEDIENE & GRACE
The story, however, is not over. In verse 43 Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone what he has done but rather to go to the priests and offer the sacrifices that are expected from anyone who is cleansed. There is a reason for this. It’s because while Jesus may have cleansed the man, it is only the priests who can declare him to be clean. That’s their job. The local priests are no doubt been well aware of this man and his condition. They will known that he is leper. But only they, according to the Jewish law can confirm that he is clean. No one else can do that and Jesus respects their position of authority. That’s why he tells the man to go see the priests before he does anything else. They have to declare him clean before he can be finally restored to his community.
Instead, what does the man do? He goes and tells everyone what Jesus has done for him. I mean who can blame him. He must be over the moon, delighted that he can again be restored to his community, that he can kiss his wife, hold his children, buy and sell in the market place and worship at the synagogue. The priests are a mere afterthought. He will eventually have to go to them but he isn’t interested in doing that right now. He has better things to do.
This is one of those paragraphs that makes us wonder, “Why did Mark include this in the story. It doesn’t really add anything to it, does it?” Yes, it does because it reminds us that Jesus does not restore us because we are obedient. He restores us because he loves us and wants us to live life fully. Even when we are disobedient, he does not take away the gifts that he has given us. He still desperately wants us to be cleansed and restored.
There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves right with God. We can never be good enough, smart enough, strong good, generous enough or obedient enough to earn God’s favour. It is only by the grace of God shown to us in the love of Jesus that we are restored to the one who created us, redeems us and sustains us.
God’s greatest desire is that his children be restored to him. In Jesus Christ that is made possible.
OUR NEED OF CLEANSING
The man came to Jesus and asked if Jesus would cleanse him. Jesus agree and immediately the leprosy left him and he was clean. In being cleansed he was restored to his community.
But now comes the tough question, the question that all of need to ask today. Of what do you need to be cleansed? For the next few moments I want each of us to put ourselves in the sandals of the leper, except that you don’t have leprosy. But his statement is still apropos: “Jesus, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” But that begs the question. Of what do you need to cleansed? Or to put it in the terms of today, what needs to happen in your life for you to be restored to your community – or your family – or your spouse – or your neighbour – or you co-worker – or whoever else in your life from whom you are separated.
Let’s face it. None of us perfect. All of us fall short. All of us hurt others. All of us are hurt by others. That will not change this side of the kingdom but Jesus offers us a way to be restored not just in the next life but in this one as well.
What is causing you to be separated from others? What is making it difficult to live the abundant life that Jesus wants you to live? From what do you need to be cleansed? That’s a scary question because it calls for honest not only with others but also with yourself.
If you want to narrow it down ask yourself this question: “Who do you treat like a leper?” What I mean by that is this: who do you try to avoid? Who do you try to keep at arms length? Who would you rather not meet as you walk down the street? When those feeling arise, that is an indication that some cleansing may be required in that relationship.
To be cleansed is to be restored. To be cleansed is to deal with the hurts and the grudges and the resentments that plague us. God’s desire for us is that we deal with them because they prevent us from living life abundantly. Do you realize how much energy it takes to hold a grudge? Do you understand how it can affect your sleep, your eating habits, your thought processes.
In Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV) the apostle Paul wrote these words: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Or in other words, be cleansed. Get rid of the stuff that prevents you from being all that God created you to be. Cast off the bitterness, anger and malice. You don’t need to think of others in those terms. Rather reach out to others with compassion and forgiveness. After all, isn’t this how God treats us – with compassion and forgiveness? In this way God restores us to himself. In the same way, this is how God wants us to be restored to each other.
The man with leprosy approached Jesus and said, “If you are willing you can make me clean.” Jesus said, “I am willing,” and the man was cleansed. Let us open our own lives to Jesus’ cleansing power as he restores us to himself and to those around us.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Father God, your Creation calls out to you in gratitude and praise. How great is your love, how wise your precepts, how abundant your compassion, how generous your mercy. Remind us, once again, of your power to overcome the darkness of this world and infuse it with your light. Shine in our hearts, Lord Jesus.
We thank you for our Church community. Thank you for what you have been able to accomplish through us. Thank you for those who have been open to your Spirit and able to give of themselves in our shared ministry. Inspire us to see beyond the boundaries that we would place around ourselves to reach out in faith to a world that needs to hear your Good News and feel your presence.
Be especially with us as we approach our Annual Meeting later this month. Give us the wisdom to discern your will and the courage to fulfill it in your name.
We pray for all who have been sick this week, at home or in hospital, who need to be restored to their rightful places. Bless them and all of us with your Healing and Holy Spirit.
We also lift up on prayer those who mourn this day, especially the family and friends of Florence Smijan whose funeral will take place this afternoon. Grant them peace and grant them the inner healing that only you can give, O God of the ages.
We lift up in prayer the ongoing concerns for Canadian soldiers in many parts of the world. We pray that you would keep them from harms way and, more than that, we pray that the cause of the conflict may end and that we may have for peace in this time.
You have heard our prayers. Encourage us to listen to your voice as it comes to us during this week. Enable us to follow in the path that you would place before us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen .
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 7, 2021 / Epiphany 5
Psalm 147;1-11,20c; Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
CALL TO WORSHIP
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
It is good to sing praises to our God;
it is pleasant and right of offer our praise.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Sing hymns and songs to our God;
play music on the organ and guitar.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy is your name, O God, and greatly to be praised. The earth was created and is moved by your hand. The ocean depths call out your glory. We, in our space and time, honour you with our worship, small and humble though it may be. We give it to you as we give our lives for your service, confident that you will bless the increase of our labour for the sake of your Holy Kingdom. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come with grateful thanks but also with honest confession. Your commands thunder through creation but we are slow to respond. We hear your Word and know what it says but we shrink for following your Holy Way for fear that others may ridicule or chastise us. Remind us that, as Christians, we are not only of this world; our true citizenship is in heaven. Still, keep us faithful in this life and forgive us when we fall short of your glory. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In the midst of the suffering of the world, there is one who gives us hope. In the midst of our sinfulness, there is one who offers forgiveness. His name is Jesus. Through faith we are freed from our sin.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
With these gifts we commit ourselves anew to the awe and wonder of the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Use these gifts, O God, to relieve suffering and bring hope to the weary. Remind us that all things are possible for those who love you and listen to your voice. Amen.
COMMISSIONING (a traditional Celtic prayer)
May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with wounded heart open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.