On the first day of a college speech class, a Christian professor asked the class members to introduce themselves and to tell the class what they liked and what they did not like about themselves. The class members answered the question until it came to be the turn of a student named Dorothy in the back of the classroom. Dorothy was silent, and then the speech professor gently repeated his question. After another moment of silence, she sat up and pulled the long red hair aside which had shielded a part of her face. On almost all of one side of her face there was a large, red, irregularly shaped birthmark. She said, “That should tell you what I don’t like about myself.”
The godly professor leaned over, compassionately hugged her, and kissed her on the cheek with the birthmark, as he said, “That’s okay, honey, God and I still think that you’re beautiful.”
Dorothy cried uncontrollably for almost twenty minutes, and then she was finally able to say, “I’ve wanted so much for someone to hug me and say what you said. Why couldn’t my parents do that? My mother won’t even touch my face.”
Like that godly professor, Jesus gave his healing touch to many who were rejected by others, and who may have even been repulsive for others to see and touch. The touch of Jesus was often the gift of one of his healing miracles. In the gospels, the miracles themselves are real life testimonies to the power and authority of Jesus Christ, and signs that he had come as King Messiah, the Son of God, filled with the Messianic enduement of the Spirit, with healing hands. Each one also showed the genuine compassion of Jesus for the suffering of people, and each one gives a unique insight into the how Jesus treated people as individuals. Each person who came to Jesus for healing often received more, because often there was need for more than a physical healing. So in the gospel of Mark there is a story of how one individual received both remarkable tenderness and very firm direction, because Jesus knew that he needed both.
“And so there comes to him [Jesus] a leper who gets down and begs him on his knees as he says, ‘If you are willing, you are able to make me clean.’ And he is filled with compassion, reaches out his hand and touches him, and says, ‘I am willing. Be clean!’ And immediately his leprosy went away from him, and he became clean. And Jesus was very direct and serious as he sent him away and said to him, ‘See that you don’t talk to anyone about this, but go, show yourself to the priest, and bring before him the offering for cleansing which Moses established, as a witness to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it often and to make it known, so that Jesus was no longer able to go into a city openly but had to stay out in the countryside; and many came to him there from all over.” (Mark 1:40-45, Dale’s sight translation; I deliberately tried to convey something of the blue collar expressiveness of the Greek; it’s more like how a steelworker would try to explain what had happened than a college educated person).
Jesus Christ has genuine compassion for human suffering. He is the living embodiment of God’s compassion to this fallen world, and the bondage of sin, disease and spiritual oppression. His kingdom, in the person of the King himself, comes to reach out and bring healing in the midst of this world. His life and ministry is the living proof that God cares and God heals in a world of pain and suffering. And because Jesus is very compassionate, we can then come to him with our needs. He came into our world to bring redemption, and because he came into our world for that purpose, we can come to him with a holy, reverent boldness for our most heartfelt and desperate needs.
In verse 40, the leper came to Jesus freely and boldly, even with some desperation and shamelessness, about his need of healing. This happened while Jesus was on one of his evangelistic tours (1:14-15, 39), as he presented himself in the towns of ancient Judea as the Messiah, and presented himself as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. He called the people to faith and repentance as he healed and drove out demons by a simple word of command from his personal authority. So the leper knew that Jesus was someone who had the healing power to take away his leprosy, but was not entirely sure about his willingness. The ‘If’ in his statement indicates that he thought that Jesus would probably be willing to heal, but wasn’t quite sure that Jesus would want to. His humble kneeling before Jesus shows that he was respectful of the sovereignty of Jesus as he approached the Lord whom he believed could meet his need.
The leper’s approach to Jesus shows us that we also can approach Jesus for our needs as well. He is not physically walking the streets of our cities and towns, but he is alive still, as the Lord and Son of God from eternity who came, died, and rose again to provide us his salvation. He is concerned about our needs and suffering also, and we can approach him with a reverent desperation about whatever has us suffering and defeated in this life. He is approachable. And we can come to him with our impossible situations when we come to him from our own place of helplessness and desperation. Sometimes we may become so lost in formality and ritual that we lose sight of how little he cares for the manner and form of our approach as much as he care for us to come to him in our desperation and helplessness. It’s like the story of the three preachers who were arguing about the best physical positions for prayer while a telephone repairman was working nearby. One preacher was for kneeling, another was for hands outstretched to heaven, and the third was for praying face down on the floor. The repairman finally interrupted and said, “ . . . the best prayin’ I ever did was hangin’ upside down from a telephone pole.”
From his compassion for human need, then, Jesus Christ brings redemption from our bondage. He reaches out in compassion, while others may ignore, neglect, pass by or even add to the rejection and humiliation of whatever has us suffering. He reaches out to do the impossible, and he will redeem the most hopeless situations.
In verse 41, then, Jesus was filled with compassion. I think that this is going back to a memory of the look on the face of Jesus as he encountered the suffering leper. And his compassion was behind his will to heal, and it only took a short command for the leper to be made completely whole. His contagious purity touched and destroyed the suffering and contagion of the loathsome, contagious and incurable (by merely human perceptions and ability)disease. His touch removed defilement as he touched the untouchable. But this was more than healing: this was a sign to the Jewish nation of his power and authority as the Messiah, that the signs of the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the ministry of God’s anointed King, Jesus from the house and lineage of David.
This testimony in the gospels shows that the healing of the Kingdom of God comes from the power, authority and compassion of Jesus. It shows that he was much, much more than a moralizing story teller, a kind of a inoffensive Jewish Socrates walking around in first century Palestine. Rather, the healings show the power that he demonstrated during his time on earth, and how much the corroboration of his credentials was a threat to those who found him such a threat to the status quo that they felt that they had to set him up for the humiliating death of a criminal on a cross to get rid of him.
But even more, the healings of Jesus during his earthly ministry show us that healing comes from his will and compassion and they happen for his glory and the establishment of his credentials as the Messiah, the Son of God. This should keep any one of us at any time from acting as if authority in the name of Jesus to heal could ever be used as an expression of one’s own will, power, authority or godliness. Rather, healings in the name of Jesus, as they continue to take place today, need to come from deep humility before Jesus Christ and in complete submission to his will. Along with the command, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk,” (Acts 3:6) there always needs to be, “Why do you stare at us as if we were able to make this man walk by our own power or godliness?” (Acts 3:12). And always there needs to be no desire on the behalf of anyone to try to get a little percentage on commission of the credit or glory due to God alone when these kinds of things take place when we serve others in ministry for Jesus. A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, got it write when he wrote, “I have never allowed anyone to look to me as a healer, and have had no liberty to pray for others while they placed the least trust in me or my prayers, or aught but the merits, promises and intercessions of Christ alone.”
So then, the first step to seeing the Lord meet our most desperate need will be for us to approach the Lord with faith in his compassion and power. This will be no general kind of faith in anything else, but in him. This will mean faith in him and not in ourselves or our own abilities, and it will come from a reverent submission to his will. And then we will find him to be a Lord whom we can come for the conquest our own sinful habits, for instance, such as deep and lingering resentments and self pity, or hidden and heart wrenching addictions to alcohol, pornography, marijuana or prescription drugs, which may cling to us but seem as impossible for us to overcome as leprosy. Or the desperate situations may be physical problems which in our day and age find no answer in medical science. Or there may be other situations for which we have run out of answers, even after we have gone through all the formulas we can find in all the books in the biggest and most comprehensive Christian bookstore in the world.
Whatever our need, we can come to the Lord and ask him to touch us with his presence, power and love, and give us what we really need in from his overwhelming love. But however he chooses to meet the situation, though, if our faith has been placed in Christ for our eternal salvation, we can be assured that we will always have his companionship and love, and that his power for us is so great that in no situation can any circumstance be beyond his love and power. Whatever it may be, even if it turns out to be something that he has not promised us complete deliverance in our lifetime or before he returns, we will still have his loving and comforting touch. It will be like the time that Queen Victoria of England spent some time with the wife of a common works who had lost a baby. Afterwards, her neighbors asked her what the queen had said, and she replied, “Nothing. She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together.”
So then, we find the living Lord whom we see clearly in the gospels healing in his love and compassion. But in these healings, we also see something else about Jesus. In our situations where he touches us, he calls us to complete obedience to the will of God. His compassion was not an easygoing indulgence, of putting a band aid on a child’s minor hurt and then saying, “Now run along and play!” His gifts of compassion and healing do not show a naïve person susceptible to easy manipulation and exploitation. Rather, along with the touch of compassion, he may speak to us directly and sternly to a need for purity and obedience in our lives.
So often Jesus used and will use a moment of his healing touch for spiritual correction and restoration to the will of God. That was behind his strong direction to the leper, after he became a former leper, to the demand of the Old Testament Law of Moses for purity and obedience. There has been a lot of ink spilled over the wording of the Greek in verse 43, about how it seems to be saying how Jesus suddenly became very irritated and very commanding toward the former leper. It’s a detail that perhaps the original eyewitnesses may not have understood. The best explanation I can find is that Jesus was ticked off at how the leper showed disregard of the command of the Old Testament Law for lepers to remain at a distance from others to avoid contagion. There is a total absence of this irritation, for instance, when he heals the ten lepers in the incident recorded in Luke 17:12-13, when they remained at a distance but called to him for healing. But like them, Jesus called for this former leper to to fulfill the demand of the Old Testament Law for an offering to be presented to God when they were healed of leprosy, and one of the Jewish priests confirmed the healing (Leviticus 14:5-22). This shows how much the compassion of Jesus was still balanced by his realization of the former leper’s deeper need for a deeper regard for the expressed will of God. After all, he did not come either as a story teller, or merely as a healer of ailments and illnesses, but as the ultimate Prophet predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19), not to destroy but to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) and to express and call for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This also shows that any regard for a fascination with miracles to the disregard of or insensitivity to the expressed will of God is incompatible with Jesus. His intention is that the testimony to his power and credentials is to grow out of the quiet and conscientious following of the will of God, rather than the ostentation and carnal chattering of people overly concerned with their own experience. Rather, it reminds us that as God brings us his expressions of compassion through Jesus Christ, there needs to be still a careful following of the will of God. Otherwise the testimony of miracles may actually turn others off if it does not result in a Christlike purity in our lives. It is like Andrew Murray once wrote: “In order to receive healing, it is usually necessary to begin by confessing sin and desiring to live a holy life. This is without doubt the reason why people find it more difficult to believe in healing than forgiveness. This is also why those who receive healing receive at the same time new spiritual blessing, feel more closely united to the Lord Jesus, and learn to love and serve him better.”
One of the problems with an insensitivity to God’s will may be unintended hindrances to the witness to Jesus Christ. It may result in the loss of access to key places and points of witness. It may not come from explicitly malicious intentions but from carelessness to note what the Lord has commanded and to follow what he had commanded.
In verse 45, Jesus’s command for the former leper to be silent about what had happened to him until he had fulfilled the Law’s demand for his purification offering. But with his fascination with being healed, the former leper went around and at great length telling everyone in a way which caused an unintended hindrance to the Lord’s desire to speak in the cities and the synagogues. He had to restrict his ministry to the countryside, outside the towns, for a considerable period because the former leper didn’t pay much attention to what Jesus had told him.
The caution is that there is the possibility that we may also be too off the cuff and insensitive with respect to God’s expressed will. While far too many Christians are far too silent and reluctant to speak about what Jesus has done in their lives, there is also the possibility that insensitivity to the expressed will of God may close some doors to our witness prematurely. A true and genuine boldness in the Spirit will be accompanied by a deep submission to God’s will and obedience to him, and Christlike sensitivity to others. For instance, though George Whitfield was known for his powerful preaching and mighty voice, he won a young girl to Christ without those: “It was not any sermon he preached; it was not anything that he said to me. It was the beautiful consistency and kindness of his daily life, in the house where he was staying when I was a little girl. I said to myself, ‘If I ever have any religion, Mr. Whitfield’s God shall be my God.’”
The times, therefore, that we seek the Lord’s compassion and assistance in our need are therefore a time to listen. They are a time to hear his voice, a time to take spiritual inventory and to become aware of any ways that we may have been insensitive to and disregard the will of God. Sometimes he speaks to us after the miracle, like the former leper, but more often he seems to speak to us before. Our biggest challenge may not be talking about our experiences – though often enough we are too close mouthed and distant to be effective witnesses – but rather to be sensitive to the voice of the Lord and to follow the will of God closely and carefully. Those times that we come to the Lord for his compassion may be times that call for us to consider quietly whether we have actively disobeyed in doing things forbidden or passively failing to do the good what he wants from us. This will mean putting ourselves in a place where we are then open to the conviction of the Spirit of God.
But I think that there’s an even more deeply ingrained habit of spiritual insensitivity among many believers today. My experience is that it tends to run more in Christian women, but I think that many Christian leaders – sometimes an elder, but more often someone in vocational Christian ministry – fall prey to it as well. I call it spiritual codependency. It is the tendency, whenever we hear someone in our family, among our friends, or in our churches, mention a problem. This is the tendency to think that it’s something for us to handle, in our pride, arrogance and desire to prove ourselves right before man, with our platitudes and formulas. In my own life, I’ve seen brothers and sisters in Christ try to jump in and deal with problems even when I’m only bringing up a past problem (at least on one occasion many years past) to tell about how the Lord has already given it his healing and purifying touch. We fail to recognize that when someone needs, or the Lord is giving, his purifying and healing touch, that we do not need to try to get our own fumbling fingers into that situation, or to try to pry open a place where God has healed a wound to try to put our own quack medicine into it.
The Lord Jesus then continued his ministry of preaching, teaching and healing until he came to the city of Jerusalem. There he went willingly to the cross where his death secured the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God for everyone who would put his or her trust in him for eternal salvation. He then rose from the deal to show how completely and finally he conquered sin and death, and then to share every spiritual blessing with his people through the Holy Spirit.
So we then can find Jesus as the Lord to whom we must come for our genuine needs, and for all of us that is first of all for salvation. The greatest miracle, accomplished only once in this lifetime for any person, is being born again of the Holy Spirit, of passing from death to life by faith in Jesus Christ. But then he is also a Lord to whom we can come for physical healing. He also paid the price for our physical healing in his death, and he will share his risen life with us in our physical bodies, to heal and renew our physical bodies for serving him. And he is a Lord to whom we can come for deliverance from our sins. We must then be willing and ready to be done completely with the habit, to call sin sin, and to blame no one but ourselves, but then we can trust him for forgiveness, fullness of fellowship with God and the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit. And finally, he is a Lord to whom we can bear witness as the compassionate Savior, as the testimony from a life that has been cleansed by his touch from impurity. From our experience of his cleansing, we can bear witness to the compassionate Savior, as those who had been moral and spiritual lepers, to let the others around us know of his healing and purifying touch.